Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a great Thanksgiving guys! Enjoy your friends and families, and let me know some of the movies you're thankful for!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Once Upon a Time in the West" quite possibly, the best western ever made

TITLE: "Once Upon a Time in the West"
DIRECTOR: Sergio Leone
STARS: Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson
EDITOR: Nino Baragli
AWARDS: National Film Registry (2009)
BOX OFFICE: $5,321,508 (USA)
RUN TIME: 165 min.

Three men's lives collide around the fate of one woman, during the railroad boom of the old West. Frank (Fonda), a merciless killer, Cheyenne (Robards), a tired crook, and Harmonica (Bronson), a quiet man with a dangerous past, must face off in a ruthless world of espionage, money, and women.

Sergio Leone's first American film, while a box office success internationally, did not fare well upon its initial release in the United States. This colored its critical reception as well, and the film was somewhat panned upon release. Throughout the 70's and 80's, many film historians, filmmakers, and cult audiences found the film again and fell in love. Like many a classic film, it took years to recognize how incredible it was. 

Leone took his signature style from his Dollars Trilogy (which starred Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name), and created, perhaps, a better film. Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Baz Luhrman are among some of the directors that cite this film as a major influence. Many of their films show direct influence, including: "Kill Bill" (2003), "Inglorious Basterds" (2009), "Australia" (2008), and even Sam Raimi's "The Quick and the Dead" (1995).

One of the crowning achievements of this film is that is was included in the National Film Registry in 2009, assuring its permanent preservation in the National Archives.

The biggest challenge to get over in this film is its length. Perhaps it could be argued that it is overlong. This writer would disagree. The music and setting are almost as much of living characters, as the roles the actors play.

Ennio Morricone's score is iconic, and the breathtaking landscapes are beautiful. Both together add a flavor to this film that is not soon forgotten. Long scenes, filled with open shots, and little dialogue leave the viewer to discover the world within the film themselves. By the time it's over, they feel as much a part of the west as the railroads, or six shooters.

A complex plot, is made easy to follow by the no-less-than-iconic performances by Bronson, Robards, and Fonda (who was famously cast against type as the antagonist of this film). This is a nearly perfect movie, and is an absolute must for anyone to see. It would be hard to be considered a fan of westerns, if one had not seen this film yet. For all others, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately.

MY IMDb RATING:  10 out of 10

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Do the Right Thing" a multi-ethnic dialogue on racism's impact

TITLE: "Do the Right Thing"
STARS: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Spike Lee
EDITOR: Barry Alexander Brown
AWARDS: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Aiello, Oscar, Nomination), Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Oscar, Nomination)
BOX OFFICE: $27,545,445 (USA)
RUN TIME: 120 min.

On one of the hottest days in recent memory, a small neighborhood in Brooklyn is pushed, challenged, and torn apart as racial tensions, bigotry, and misunderstandings escalate into violence.

Lee's "Do the Right Thing" is considered a classic of the modern era of filmmaking. Its strong themes, fair treatment, and incredible writing, have kept it at the forefront of modern popular culture.

This film deals bluntly with bigotry of all types in a small cross-section of Brooklyn. Racism, bigotry, love, hate, family dichotomy, friendship, and loyalty are all given a fair shake by Lee. The neighborhood of focus is comprised of mostly African-Americans. It is apparent there is some racial tension with the Italian-American owners of Sal's Famous Pizzeria. While Sal tends to try to diffuse the racial tension, he is easily upset by the youth that visit his shop. His oldest son, Pino, is overtly racist, while his younger son seems to be accepting of anyone. The rest of the community has their own troubles, either between youth and the elderly, matriarchs and drunkards, racism towards the Asian shop-owners in town, and a general fear of power hungry police.

This is one of only 5 films to be entered into the National Film Registry in its first year of eligibility (the others being: "Raging Bull" (1980), "Goodfellas" (1990), "Toy Story" (1995), and "Fargo" (1996)). Its themes of cultural unrest, honestly portray a segment of American history, while also staying resonant in modern culture.

The reason this film stands out against so many that try to tackle these hard issues, is because it gives a fair position to most viewpoints. It ends with two quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcom X. These quotes show different viewpoints of the same actions, both trying to accomplish the same goals. That is this film. Many different people are trying to accomplish the same things, showing love and caring to those they hold dear, and they find different ways to do so.

Unlike many racial dramas, this one also leaves much of itself open to interpretation. Did Mookie (played by Lee) actually do the right thing? Who was at fault for the escalating violence at the end of the film? Is it personal problems that lead to the violence, or longstanding stereotypes? Almost all of the film's conclusions are up to the viewer to interpret themselves. That is where its power lies. After watching this film, time to contemplate, dialogue, and think are necessary. This writer highly recommends this film, and considers it one of the most important films ever made. It can be hard to get through, but its beautiful cinematography, direction, performances, and wonderful writing, all help this film to glide by in a very entertaining fashion.

MY IMDb RATING:  9 out of 10

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Top Hat" a musical darling, for musical darlings

TITLE: "Top Hat"
DIRECTOR: Mark Sandrich
STARS: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers
EDITOR: William Hamilton
AWARDS: Best Picture (Oscar, Nomination), Best Music, Original Song (Oscar, Nomination), Best Dance Direction (Oscar, Nomination), Best Art Direction (Oscar, Nomination)
RUN TIME: 101 min.

When American dancer, Jerry Travers (Astaire), travels to London to star in a new show directed by his friend, Horace (Edward Horton), he falls for Dale Tremont (Rogers). Through a case of mistaken identity, Dale think Jerry is Horace, who is married to Dale's friend, and refuses his advances.

Some films transcend the art form to become legacies in their own right. That is why "Top Hat" still stands out today. Cute dance numbers and fun songs keep this piece afloat for modern audiences.

This, the fourth of ten Astaire-Rogers pairings, was also their most financially successful. Working with Irving Berlin, with whom Astaire became life-long friends, proved magical for the duo. "Cheek to Cheek" is still considered a classic song, being referenced in all facets of pop culture, including last week's review, "The Green Mile."

The Venice scene, the final major set piece, was the largest ever constructed at the time. It showcased dozens of coordinated dancers, with the final scene being shot in only two takes. Astaire still stands out as an incredible dancer. This musical stands out due to its focus on the wonderful pairing of two strong dancers, as opposed to relying on singing.

This film received good reviews upon its release, with the only real negativity being focused towards the story. This writer tends to agree. Great dance numbers, and enjoyable musical scenes are interspersed throughout a somewhat predictable, and sub-par story. With that being said, any lover of the musical genre would greatly enjoy this film.

MY IMDb RATING:   7 out of 10