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Didactic and overblown
For a "documentary-style" drama, this one is awfully preachy, and for the most part, it preaches to the choir. Drugs are bad, the war on drugs is a losing one--these are not revolutionary concepts. Yet the film is directed without any sense of irony, and nothing new is brought to the table. Mr. and Mrs. Douglas overact like the Mr. and Mrs. Burton in their heyday, and Mr. Douglas's storyline--drug czar's daughter descends into drug hell--plays like an afterschool special circa 1982. Del Toro is fine and gets the best story, tho it all becomes a bit confusing. Overall, I just found this to be a pretty flat movie of the week.
Fight Club (1999)
Precious and obvious
The first half hour or so was pretty entertaining, even if most of it consisted of Edward Norton telling us what we were seeing (you know, God forbid we should use our abilities to surmise what's going on). And since I saw it on video, I could use slo-mo to catch Brad's "Where's Waldo" bits. As soon as Norton met Brad, it was all downhill. Even a really fine, insightful actor would have had a hard time making those pretentious lines sound significant, but Brad Pitt's spewing of them was like a nearsighted used car dealer reading cue cards. This movie was so obvious, so pretentious, and such a total con job, right up to the absurd plot twist three-quarters of the way through that completely invalidated everything that came before it. Also, for a movie that was so preachy about consumerism ("You are not your car, your khakis," all that hackneyed nonsense), did anyone else notice that all the tired young execs at Fight Club proper seemed to spend alot of time at the gym? Nary a pot belly to be found, save for poor Meat Loaf, who was somehow exempt from the "no shirt/no shoes" rule. Large-breasted Meat Loaf fighting shirtless--now that would have been shocking.
Everything this movie had to say has been said before, and better. And sometimes just as badly. (See "Zabriskie Point" for another example of an overblown, smug rumination on being yourself and getting back to basics vs. evil products like Wonder Bread.)
"Fight Club" was just a cynical exercise from a self-important director seeing how much he could get away with.
Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Such an enigma
It's not just the artistic montages, stylized performances, and can't-get-it-out-of-your-head music that puts Valley of the Dolls head and shoulders above most films. What puts this in a class by itself is that it is one film that dares to leave unanswered questions. Even after repeated viewings I found myself pondering the following (NOTE: I don't think any of this info is a real "spoiler," but all the same, you should probably see the movie before reading further):
--How DOES Neely get those beads to cup her breasts that way? Could this be the subtext of the song she's singing: "It's Impossible"?
--If Tony Polar is in a vegetative state, what on earth is he doing at a dance? Was this the filmmaker's sly commentary on the healthcare system?
--If singing a duet with Neely can bring Tony back from the brink of catatonia, wouldn't it be better for everyone involved if they took him out of the hospital and moved him to Vegas, where he could once again live a productive life?
--If your best friend was a reluctant porn star, and she was facing a mastectomy, would you try to cheer her up by inviting her to the beach? Was this the filmmaker's sly commentary on the intelligence level of super models?
--If Helen Lawson gets acclaim for her off-key singing of a song about trees while dodging shards of glass, what in God's name did she do onstage in the show at the end that looks like it's going to flop? THAT would have been an interesting piece of film.
Yes, this truly is a film that demands repeated viewings. A perfect 10.
A Place in the Sun (1951)
Excellent and Moving
The leads are perfectly cast. This was one of Clift's best performances, and certainly Winters' best in a leading role. Elizabeth Taylor is beautiful and heartbreaking as the wealthy girl who falls for guy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks Clift. Their love scenes have an incredible potency and their final scene together is a masterwork. This is a great film.
Much More Than a Western
"Shane" should be required viewing for anyone setting out to make a film. It tells its story visually, through subtext, and creates a realistic portrait of people; it is also emotionally and morally complex. It is never stated that Shane had been a gunfighter; we just understand this, from his appearance and from what we glean through the dialogue. Likewise, there are no overt moments of intimacy between Shane and Marion (Mrs. Starrett), but we are aware that there is a deep attraction between them. When Joe, Marian's husband, realizes it, it is not because of anything he states, just a line at the 4th of July party, when Marian (in her wedding dress) is dancing with Shane: "Looks like I'm fenced out," and what is spoken as a joke becomes serious as we watch the expression on his face. The closest he comes to actually saying anything is toward the end, when he's going to ride into town to face Ryker, and tells Marian that if anything happens to him he knows she'll be taken care of. Likewise, at the end of the film, when little Joey is calling across the plains for Shane to "come back," he yells to Shane, "Mother wants you, I know she does," and the words echo back, we see a close up of Joey, his expression changing, and we know the child realizes too that Shane does (or could) mean something more to his mother.
Stevens also didn't make the "bad guys" black-and-white villains. We understand that these men fought and tamed the land and are now being displaced by the homesteaders. What they want might not be fair, but it is not completely unreasonable either.
Most of the scenes, even the simple ones, play in montage. It looks as though Stevens shot each scene from about 15 different angles and edited them together. The effect is striking.
Far and away one of the best films ever.
Female Trouble (1974)
Long before John Waters was turning out "mainstream"-type fair like Cry Baby and Pecker, he was creating underground masterworks such as this and Pink Flamingos and Multiple Maniacs. Female Trouble, I think, stands out as the best of the cult movies of the '70s (with the exception, perhaps, of the Honeymoon Killers) because it is a fully realized masterwork, not just a series of "shocking" scenes strung together. Indisputably Divine's best work, it was light years ahead of its time in exploring how far people will go to achieve fame. ("I'm a thief, a s**tkicker, and I want to be famous.")
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
It's really hard to imagine any other actors in these roles, and the remakes, while more faithful to the play, haven't come close to this version. It's unfortunate that "standards" at the time this was made necessitated watering down a lot of the subtext and tacking on that ridiculous "happy" ending.
Certainly one of the top films of the '60s, this film was overlooked (misunderstood?) at its release and has yet to be "rediscovered." Lester's use of flashbacks and forewards is a little confusing at first, but it's also a vital element in what makes this film so worthwhile. The performances are first-rate all the way, including Richard Chamberlin, who has never been this good before or since, and Joseph Cotton, who speaks volumes in his brief scenes. Challenging and disturbing, definitely a film that deserves (and requires) a second look. Maybe someone will do a Lester retrospective (he also did the Beatles' first films)so that this masterpiece can finally find the audience it deserves.
One of Bergman's Best
A simple, beautifully told story that touches on so many topics: faith, the powers of good and evil, retribution, loss, among others. The performances are excellent, and black-and-white photography has never looked so good. Thematically similar to Cocteau's "Belle et la Bete." Definitely a must-see.
Eve's Bayou (1997)
I guess that in a year that produced "Titanic" there was no room for a small, haunting, beautifully acted character-driven film. It was great to see Samuel L. Jackson giving such a subtle performance (after his bombastic turns in Tarentino pix). Why Debi Morgan wasn't at least nominated for an Academy Award is a complete mystery (if only for the scene in which she recounts the murder of her husband). All in all, a moving, memorable film.