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The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Horror at its finest
[Editor's note: this comment contains a minor SPOILER]
How many times have you heard a noise in the middle of the night and shivered in your bed? The fear of the unknown source of the noise chills your blood. That fear of the unknown is what makes The Blair Witch Project one of the greatest horror films.
Only using a camcorder and a black and white 16mm held by the actors themselves, the film's subjective cinemtography heightens the atmosphere of fear. Many scenes at night nothing is visible but darkness. The soundtrack is filled with noises but the camera keeps jerking around; you can not find its source.The scene inside the house ( I won't say what happens there ) was filmed ingeniusly (if done on purpose). One character holds the camcorder, the only piece of equipment capable of recording sound, while the other has the 16mm which has no sound recording device. As the one with the camcorder runs down the stairs, the audience can only see what the 16mm sees as it is trying to follow the other person. The screams of the person with the 16mm can only be heard as distant screams through the camcorder's microphone. So the descent down the stairs has an eiry detachment that works extremely well.
The Blair Witch Project shows that multi-million dollar budgets are not neccesary to make high quality films...
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Sureal Dream...A great finale by Kubrick
Eyes Wide Shut will imediately alienate or entice its viewers. Walking out of the theatre, there were many people commenting on how bad it was. For a person looking for a porn film, I guess Eyes Wide Shut had too much plot and too little sex. For a person looking for an erotic thriller, I guess Eyes Wide Shut had too many open-ended questions and too few climatic scenes filled with answers. But for a person looking for a peek into the mind, into that Freudian unconscious, Eyes Wide Shut had plenty of images to contemplate.
First of all, like all of Kubrick's films, Eyes Wide Shut is about images, visuals. Durring Cruise's "night on the town" Kubrick's grainy film mixed with his extensive backlighting creates a dream-like state. The camera is slow and methodic. It shows us all we need to see in this urban dreamscape (minus those pesky digital images!). Because thats what Eyes Wide Shut is: a tour of the human dreamscape, or at least the seedier side of it.
The plot moves slowly not concerned that it has left some questions unanswered, because this isn't a film about answers. Here we see another Kubrick signature, the open-ended ending. When those credits role, you'll probably still have questions or maybe you'll want to know what just hit you. Where did Kubrick just take you? What did you just see? I must say that one viewing, which is all that I have had, is insufficient to answer those questions completely.
Eyes Wide Shut is an excellent movie that makes you think. Not like The Usual Suspects, but like Persona or 2001 or Blue Velvet, another dream caught up in dreams. It doesn't keep you guessing, it keeps you thinking...well after the credits role. One thing is clear though, this is a must see finale to a wonderful career.
The Third Man (1949)
A movie ahead of its time
The Third Man is a movie that looks and feels not like a movie of the 40s, but like a neo-noir of the late 60s/early 70s. This wonderful example of classic noir is one of the all time greatest films. It combines amazing visuals, sounds, dialogue, and acting to tell a thrilling story and comment about the atmosphere after WWII.
Of all the movies durring the studio era (pre-1960ish), there are three movies with cinematography that always stick out in my mind: Gregg Toland's work in Citizen Kane, Russel Mety's work in Touch of Evil, and Robert Krasker's work in The Third Man (all starring Orson Welles funny enough). I just recently saw a restored 35mm version of The Third Man. The crisp black and white visuals of a bombed out Vienna are so breath-taking. Shadows are everywhere. The unique way Krasker tilts the camera in some shots adding to the disorientation of the plot. And who can forget the first close-up of Welles with the light from an apartment room above splashing onto his face; one of the great entrances in movie history (Lime gives his old friend a smile that only Welles could give).
The cinematography is backed by strong performances by Welles, Cotten, and italian actress Vali. The writing of Greene is wonderful; you can see the plot twisting around Cotten tightly. But what makes The Third Man so great is its historical commentary (well not really historical since it was commenting on its own time, but to us it is historical). On one level The Third Man is a story of betrayal and corruption in a post-war, occupied Vienna. On the other hand, its giving the audience a glimpse of the mood of Europe after the great war. The uncertainty that the Cold War was bringing is evident through out the film; Cotten is constantly trying to figure out who to trust. Vienna is on the frontier of the new communist bloc (we even see the communists infiltrating Vienna trying to bring Vali back to her native Czechoslavakia). The zither music score combined with the stark images of bombed out Vienna are reminiscent of the frontier towns of American Westerns. So The Third Man is not only a wonderful film noir, but a unique look at the brief time between WWII and the height of the Cold War.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Greatest Movie of All Time
Instead of writing a paragraph, I'll give four good reasons why 2001 is the greatest cinema experience of all time: 1) It is a visual Odyssey that could only be told on the big screen. The special effects that won Kubrick his only Oscar are the most stunning effects before that age of Jurassic Park and T2. They allow Kubrick to give an accurate (or at least are the most accurate) depiction of space travel to date. The silence that fills the space scenes not only serves its purpose as accurate science, but also adds to the mood of the film (to be discussed in a later point with HAL). The fact that Kubrick shot the moon scenes before the Apollo landing is a gutsy yet fulfilling move. Many have said that upon its original release, it was a favorite "trip" movie. I can think of no other movie that has such amazing visuals for its time and even of all time (sorry Phantom Menace fans!) 2) Kubrick's directing style is terrific. As in all his films, Kubrick likes to use his camera as means to delve into the psychology of his characters and plots. His camera is not as mobile as other greats, such as Scorsese, but instead sits and watches the narrative unfold. Faces are the key element of a Kubrick film. Like classic movies, such as M and Touch of Evil, Kubrick focuses on the characters' faces to give the audience a psychological view-point. Even he uses extreme close-ups of HAL's glowing red "eye" to show the coldness and determination of the computerizd villain. I could go on, but in summation Kubrick is at the hieght of his style. 3) HAL 9000 is one of the most villainous characters in film history. I whole-heartedly agree with the late Gene Siskle's opinion of HAL 9000. Most of this film takes place in space. Through the use of silence and the darkness of space itself, a mood of isolation is created. Dave and his crewmen are isolated between earth and jupiter, with nowhere to escape. Combine this mood with the cold, calculated actions of HAL 9000 and you have the most fearful villain imaginable. I still, although having see this film several times, feel my chest tighten in a particular scene. 4) The controversial ending of 2001 always turns people away from this film. Instead of trying to give my opinion of the what it means and what my idea of 2001's meaning in general is, I'd like to discuss the fact that the ending serves to leave the movie open-ended. Kubrick has stated that he inteded to make 2001 open for discussion. He left its meaning in the hands of the viewer. By respecting the audience's intelligence, Kubrick allowed his movie to be the beginning, not the end, of a meaningful discussion on man's past, present, and future. The beauty of 2001 is that the ending need not mean anything deep, it can just be a purely plot driven explanation and the entire movie can be viewed as an entertaining journey through space. No other movie, save the great Citizen Kane, leaves itself open to discussion like 2001. It is truly meant to be a surreal journey that involves not only the eye but the mind. Instead of waiting in long lines for the Phantom Menace, rent a widescreen edition of 2001 and enjoy the greatest cinematic experience.
One of the Best of All Time
Chinatown is a movie that combines a superb script with flawless directing. Robert Towne's script is probably the best script of all time. It encompasses all the elements of classical film noirs and uses them to tell a perfect story. The clues are fed to the audience slowly, but carefully. As Jake Gittes discovers more and more of the twisted plot revolving around the death of Mr. Mulwray, a world of disgusting corruption is found. Towne's script is reinforced by two of the greates performances of all time: Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson. Dunaway is the perfect femme fatale; she pulls Jake into a case that is bigger than he can handle. Nicholson plays a more thoughtful character than his usual roles. The most interesting part of the Gittes character is his vulnerability. Nicholson's nose is covered with bandages for a good part of the film to reinforce the fact that Gittes is not super-human; he will not and can not solve this case in time to save Dunaway.
Finally, Roman Polanski's direction is amazing in Chinatown. His camera is a voyeur in the film. It follows just over Nicholson's shoulder, it is right next to Dunaway's face (which from interviews, I hear really disturbed her and created friction between she and Polanski), and it surveys the young L.A. landscape revealing its superficial beauty. Polanski wonderfully contrasts this beautiful image of early L.A. and the corruption underlying the plot. On the one hand we see the desert and all its stark beauty. But in another scene, the camera is dodging punches or trying to get away from Claude Mulvhill. This move definetely signified a peek in Polanski's career. It is unfortunate that events in his personal life has made him an outcast in America, he truly had a great eye as a director.
The Age of Innocence (1993)
Excellent Period Piece Shows the Genius of Scorcese
One could watch Age of Innocence with the volume off and still be amazed. As in all his films, Scorcese uses his camera to paint a portrait of the space and condition that his characters move in. The fluid camera movement shows the audience the beautiful rooms and costumes of the late 19th century New York society. Scorcese also pays close attention to the mechanics of the society; we can watch the meat being carved and the cigars being clipped and lit. Just as in Goodfellas, we watch how the mob works from the inside, Age of Innocence lets us watch the inner workings of this scoiety. Of course there are the stylistic techniques that Scorcese is famous for. The way he darkens part of the screen and focuses on Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer in one scene at the opera is further proof of his genuis as a film maker. Visual excellence combined with great performances and an interesting narrative makes Age of Innocence a must see for anyone interested in great films.
Better than Platoon? Gone With the Wind? I think not...
Some movies have great dialogue. Others have well developed characters. This movie had neither. Actually this film had nothing but amazing special effects. I am a Star Wars fan; I have seen the original triology many times and still love them all. But Phantom Menace has nothing that the original movies had. There are no stunning characters to follow (I still believe that Han Solo is one of the most important male characters in movie history). The plot is weak and scattered. The dialogue is banal and empty. Lucas should have just made a cast of computer animations and nothing would have been lost.
The Matrix (1999)
good effects, good idea...bad execution
This movie would be good if the director kept the special effects and then fired all the actors and rewrote the script. The idea of The Matrix is amazing. When I realized what the Matrix was, I was interested. Unfortunately, the script didn't allow me to care enough about the rest of the narrative. If the characters were less cartoon-like and I was made to feel any sympathy towards them, maybe the film would work. Go see The Matrix for the special effects but don't pay attention to the narrative, or you will be disappointed. (3 out of 10)