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Malcolm X (1992)
The Spike Lee Masterpiece?, 30 August 2015

Biographical epic of the controversial and influential Black Nationalist leader (Denzel Washington), from his early life and career as a small-time gangster, to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam.

I think people would generally say "Do the Right Thing" is Spike Lee's masterpiece, but that film is challenging and hard to swallow at times. That may make it powerful and artistic, but it is hard to compete with "Malcolm X", which tells true history and explains much about the black man's plight in America. And with Denzel Washington, one of the greatest actors, in the lead, it is hard to deny its wide appeal.

Lee is a great director for pushing "black cinema" (if such a thing exists). And this is the film that really makes it real, gets to the heart of what is wrong with how mainstream (white) society treats the black man. This should be required viewing.

Eat (2014)
Very Hard to Watch, 30 August 2015

Novella McClure (Meggie Maddock) is like most struggling actresses in Los Angeles: she is in her early 30s, her fake name sounded cooler ten years ago, and she has not landed a role in three years.

This movie has a pretty low rating on IMDb. As of this moment (August 2015), it is sitting at 4.7, which is generally considered a bad movie. But it is not a bad movie. The problem is that it is just very difficult to sit through because the graphic imagery is disturbing and disgusting. But this is, of course, exactly what they were trying to accomplish.

Obviously this is a low budget film, but the acting is still decent and the plot is better than average. It makes an interesting companion piece to "Starry Eyes". And the gore... wow. Most of the time it is just blood, but when we get glimpses of more than that, it is some of the best out there...

Quite the Cast!, 29 August 2015

Kathy (Barbara Stanwyck) leaves the newspaper business to marry homicide detective Bill but is frustrated by his lack of ambition and the banality of life in the suburbs. Her drive to advance Bill's career soon takes her down a dangerous path.

Barbara Stanwyck, Raymond Burr, Fay Wray, Robert Quarry and others... this is quite the cast. That alone should make this worth watching. Stanwyck leads the way, and while this may not be her finest performance, it is always nice to see her in the lead.

How this is not considered one of the better-known film noir movies out there is something of a mystery to me given those involved. It certainly is not seen on the level as "Asphalt Jungle" or the works of Fritz Lang. Maybe it should be?

Brazilian Film and Obama?, 28 August 2015

A retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, set during the time of the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.

Barack Obama notes in his memoir "Dreams from My Father" (1995) that it was his mother's favorite film. Obama, however, didn't share his mother's preferences upon first watching the film during his first years at Columbia University: "I suddenly realized that the depiction of the childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad's dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white, middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different."

An interesting interpretation. Indeed, what I find interesting is how what it means to be black varies so much from one country to the next. What we see here could never have been an American film in 1959. It is just so far outside of what was possible. And yet, it seems perfectly natural for Brazil.

The Greek mythology parallel is nice, but it is most interesting to see what passed for Brazilian culture in the 1950s. What an entirely different world from what we knew in the United States.

Cape Fear (1962)
The Pure Evil of Robert Mitchum, 28 August 2015

A lawyer (Gregory Peck)'s family is stalked by a man (Robert Mitchum) he once helped put in jail.

This may be one of the greatest thrillers of all time. And why not? You have Mitchum, who is great at playing dark and evil characters. This one is by far his darkest and most evil. And then you have Gregory Peck, who is best known for playing upstanding citizens, most notably Atticus Finch. So seeing him as the hero is easy.

And then you have a story that goes above and beyond. This was 1962, and movies were relatively tame by the standards of today (2015). But not this one. Threats of murder, blackmail, rape... this is a vicious movie that is legitimately scary, and not in the campy way that a lot of early thrillers now are.

Gilda (1946)
The Femme Fatale, 28 August 2015

Johnny Farrell is a gambling cheat who turns straight to work for an unsettling casino owner Ballin Mundson. But things take a turn for Johnny as his alluring ex-lover appears as Mundson's wife, and Mundson's machinations begin to unravel.

A film noir like "Asphalt Jungle" has the criminals and the caper and the police and all that good stuff. What it lacks, however, is a strong femme fatale. And that is where "Gilda" comes in, dealing you a femme fatale in spades. Rita Hayworth gives a strong performance, quite possibly the performance of her carer.

I did not know what to expect from the movie, having no idea of plot and more or less just going off the cover (which they say not to do). I was in for a pleasant surprise.

The Definitive Film Noir?, 28 August 2015

A major heist goes off as planned, until bad luck and double crosses cause everything to unravel.

This is everything you want in a film noir. Crooks, cops, a bit of police procedural, the heist... and from John Huston, who has to be one of the best directors of his era.

What is particularly interesting about this film is that although it is among the greatest noir films ever made (possibly the best ever), it has no real stars to speak of. Marilyn Monroe has a smaller part, but no big stars like Robert Mitchum or Rita Hayworth carrying the picture.

If you have not seen this, see it. I am amazed I made it this long without having it on my list.

It's Alright, 27 August 2015

The spoiled young heir to the decaying Amberson fortune comes between his widowed mother and the man she has always loved.

More than 40 minutes of Welles's original footage was deleted, with portions reshot. Welles later said, "They destroyed 'Ambersons,' and 'it' destroyed me." Like the film itself, Bernard Herrmann's score for The Magnificent Ambersons was heavily edited by RKO. When more than half of his score was removed from the soundtrack, Herrmann bitterly severed his ties with the film and promised legal action if his name were not removed from the credits.

In 1991, "The Magnificent Ambersons" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was included in Sight and Sound's 1972 list of the top ten greatest films ever made, and again in the 1982 list. It's not that great.

Malcolm X (1972)
A Broad Look at Malcolm X, 27 August 2015

James Earl Jones narrates this fascinating and moving documentary about the life of the assassinated black leader through various sources.

Having an interest in history and to some degree the 1960s, I was vaguely aware of the Malcolm X story. I am especially interested in the FBI and the extreme measures they went to in order to bring their enemies down. In this regard, Malcolm shared a lot with Martin Luther King (who seems to have almost no part in this story).

How close to the true story does Spike Lee get in his film? Well, you have to watch this documentary to find out, or perhaps even read a book. The story of black rights is far from over, but rarely was there an individual who caught the nation's attention.

Hoosiers (1986)
Decent Basketball Film, 27 August 2015

A coach with a checkered past (Gene Hackman) and a local drunk (Dennis Hopper) train a small town high school basketball team to become a top contender for the championship.

Although I am not one who cares for basketball or sports films (they all seem to follow the same general plot), this one does have some good things going for it. Namely, Gene Hackman, who never makes a bad movie (or at least never plays a bad role). And Dennis Hopper, who is something of a wild card and is appropriately cast as a drunk.

Beyond that, it is just a feel good movie. Nothing too heavy, sort of the thing you expect from the 1980s. And that is just alright.

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