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Ladri di biciclette (1948)
A True Classic
There's a scene early on in Bicycle Thieves, where Ricci's wife go to see a lady who tells fortunes. When Ricci find's out what his wife is doing he goes up to see her, leaving his bicycle in the doorway and asking a young boy to watch it. My immediate reaction upon seeing this was that the bicycle would be stolen here, I thought to myself, "how predictable". But then, as Ricci and his wife walk back down the stairway and the doorway comes back into the frame, I see that the bicycle is still there. Then it dawned on me: The only reason I thought the bike might get stolen in the first place was because of the film's title, De Sicca had used the title of his film to make the scene suspenseful! It was at that moment that the film had me hooked.
The brilliance of Bicycle Thieves lies in its simple yet effective story. Following the precepts of Italian neorealist movement, began by Roberto Rossellini, De Sicca filmed it on location and used only untrained actors. The realistic tone of the film helps to ground it and make it more relatable. This is not a story about superhuman heroics,it doesn't feature any crime lords, fairy tale lands, or over the top violence. It's simply a story about a man who needs a bicycle to support his family and loses it. Yet it's so compelling. That's the power of cinema, and that's why I love Bicycle Thieves.
Better than it's reputation
Before 2008 rolled around, Temple of Doom was considered the weakest of the Indiana Jones movies. Though I personally prefer it to Last Crusade (Raiders is far and ahead the best), I'll admit it's inferior from a critical standpoint. For one thing its McGuffin the Sankara Stones, are not as fully realized as the Holy Grail or the Lost Ark. The Ark consumed a platoon of Nazis in fiery wrath. The Grail healed Indy's father and can give eternal life to anyone who drinks from it. The stones start on fire when Jones recites an incantation. When, at the end of the film, Indy says he now understands the power of the stones we do not share in that understanding. Another problem in the film is Willie Scott, Jones' love interest, whose incessant screaming gets annoying after a while. There's also some badly written dialogue. In many scenes people talk over each other, I realize this happens in real life but on film, frankly, it's distracting.
Despite all this the film is well made overall. The action scenes are quite exciting, though sloppier than in Raiders. The characters all develop and change through the course of the movie. Indy goes from being glory seeking treasure hunter to becoming a wiser, better man at the end of the film, where he gives the last remaining stone to the villagers. Short Round, Indy's sidekick in this film, actually saves him on multiple occasions, making him more than just another person to get Indy into trouble. Willie changes from a spoiled, rich singer, to smarter more caring person. She also grows closer to Indy and Short Round over the course of the film. Finally, the villain, Mola Ram is appropriately over the top, albeit rather two dimensional. John Williams score is, as always, outstanding.
Temple of Doom is a fun throwback to old pulp adventure films from the 30's. Overall, despite being the weakest of the first three Indiana Jones movies, Temple of Doom is a solid adventure film.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
I wanted to like this Trek more than I actually did. It has the emotion and character interaction I love to see from Star Trek, but it seems dumbed down from a Sci-fi standpoint compared to the TV show. There are convenient plot contrivances that we are supposed to take for granted. Like when Picard knows exactly where to hit the Borg ship in the opening battle scene. The Borg, once a unique race, all united as one one collective, are given a queen in this movie, reducing them to the equivalent of an ant colony. Picard, usually such a calm, collected, concerned officer, is a revenge driven action hero type this time around. Also while the parts on the ship were fairly well done, in that they had tension, the scenes with Cochrane and the rest of the crew feel very awkward at times. The idea of time travel (once again) is taken far to lightly in comparison with the TV series. I also found it rushed at times. Despite all this I don't hate the film. It had some enjoyable character moments and was well acted for the most part. The "action" scenes with the Borg are appropriately eerie and suspenseful. It also boasts a superb score from the late, great Jerry Goldsmith. It's a half decent action movie but Trek works best when it has headier concepts to work with.
Star Wars (1977)
The film that shaped pop culture
Star Wars is great cinema. One of the great things about it is the visuals, the opening shot where the Star Destroyer flies over while chasing the Rebel Blockade Runner is amazing. The music is also fantastic, it evokes early epic movie scores by the likes of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Miklos Rozsa and also hearkens back to Classical music in the romantic period, especially to Wagner and Holst. The characters and story are somewhat basic but that's part of whats great about the movie, it has an archetypal, mythic quality.
Some have said that the only reason this movie is highly regarded is because of people who as as children and idolize it for nostalgic reasons, well as someone who saw for the first time at the age of 16, I can attest that it's stands on it's own very well.
It does have a few flaws. The dialogue can be corny at times. Luke's remorse over his aunt and uncles death seems rather short lived, particularly compared to his sadness over Ben Kenobi's death. Despite these flaws Star Wars is still an excellent film. Highly recommended!
My favorite movie
Well, this is my first review, so I thought it might as well be for my favorite film. I just love everything about this film, the writing, the cinematography, the cast, Ennio Morricone's score, everything.
Even the title gives the film more depth as the film has to prove to you that Blondie is the good, Tuco is the ugly and Angel Eyes is the bad. Each is proved in a different way. With Blondie, we have serious doubts when we first see the title "The Good" under his picture right after he leaves Tuco in the desert. As the movie goes on we slowly come to realize that though he may not be a saint, he is certainly better than his two counterparts, this is proved at the very end when he allows Tuco to keep his share of the gold, even though he could have easily taken it all for himself. This is something we cannot imagine Angel Eyes or Tuco doing. With Tuco, it's different, we first see "The Ugly" title when we first see him and we are not even sure what it means, the best conclusion we can come to perhaps is that he certainly doesn't look very attractive in the scene. But we later see that 'ugly' is meant to mean pitiful in this situation, because although Tuco is a vile character, we pity him because we find out about his past. Finally there's Angel Eyes, with him we have no doubts about the text "The Bad" which appears after he murders his employer, this certitude of his evil nature is reaffirmed throughout the film. So the character development in this film seems not so much to be with the characters but with our own perception of them.
Opinions vary about what the film really is. Is it a satire of westerns? Is it a an antiwar film? Is it camp? Is it art? Is it all of these things maybe? I think perhaps Leone left the film to the viewers own interpretation, and that, I suppose, is the way art is.
This films does have a few small flaws: 1.The Ecstasy of Gold scene is a little unbelievable, could a person like Tuco, who seems to struggle with reading, find the name on a grave while running through a graveyard in circles? This scene is also a little hard to watch because the camera follows Tuco very fast, causing the screen to blur. This does work artistically however as it seems to have present a "blinded with greed" metaphor. 2. There are a few other unrealistic scenes, such as the one where Tuco and Blondie walk through an abandoned town and kill Angel eyes men , conveniently placed cannon shots aid them and they kill men shooting from the hip, while the Angel Eyes men carefully aim and miss. The flaws in this film are easily outweighed by it's strengths however: 1. The characters are very well written and portrayed. 2. The pacing is superb (it seemed no longer then A Fistful of Dollars really). 3. The story, while not one of the films stronger aspects, is still very good. 4. The dialog is brilliant. 5. It has one of the greatest scores of all time. 6. The cinematography is stunning.
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo is truly a great piece of cinema.