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Oft-cited as one of the top horror movies of all time, along with such fare
as "Jaws" and "Alien", "Psycho" is Alfred Hitchcock's most well-known film.
Why would this one film, made before the peak of his career, come to be the
most famous? It's simple: Hitchcock was at his best when he toyed with
audiences' expectations, and "Psycho" did that in a big
Viewers in the 1960's were not as jaded and suspicious when they waled into theaters as they are today. Now, people try to guess the endings of M. Night Shyamalan movies before the first hour is up, whereas the audiences of Hitchcock's time were more passive. Hitchcock took advantage of this quality by establishing a seemingly unstable character -- the titular psycho -- only to force us later on to question who was really most deserving of that dubious honor.
The plot is simple: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a struggling office worker, carrying on a relationship with a man she knows can't support her. Faced with these pressures and an opportunity to change them, she steals $40,000 from her workplace and goes on the run. She stops at the Bates Motel, a forgotten little establishment strapped for visitors ever since the highway was diverted elsewhere. The caretaker there is Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a charming young man who exudes an aura of strange intensity. It is there at the motel that the fate of Marion and her stolen money will be decided, by forces outside her control. The nature of those forces is not truly revealed until the last minutes of the film, in what was an truly outrageous ending for a movie of the 60's.
The performances of the main characters are very good, with special attention being paid to Anthony Perkins. Perkins never got another major role after his turn as the conflicted Norman Bates; his stellar performance in "Psycho" cementing him in audience's minds as a certain kind of character actor. Janet Leigh as Marion Crane acts just as you would expect a desperate and paranoid criminal on the run to. The supporting cast is capable, with the exception of Marion's love interest, Sam Loomis (John Gavin). He comes off as the typical, brutish boyfriend type, a one-note character with little to do other than exist in various stages of outrage.
The camerawork in "Psycho" is exceptional, especially considering the tools available to Hitchcock at the time. The long zoom in to the room where Sam and Marion are meeting is phenomenal for a 60's movie, as is the way Hitchcock stages the infamous "shower scene" that so scared the public. As in the aforementioned classic horror movies, Hitchcock deftly hides his "monster", his "psycho", allowing us only brief glimpses at it to let the tension and suspense to build. Perhaps the ultimate failing of "Psycho" is in its lasts minutes, when the unmasking of the true "psycho" leaves audiences over-saturated with information when they had so long been left in the dark. There is such a thing as "too much information", and the end of "Psycho" suffers for it.
"Psycho" is and will continue to be remembered as the seminal Hitchcockian film, whether it is his best or not (I, for one, find "Rear Window" to be a better film). With the way Hitchcock played the movie-going audience of his time, it is little wonder why this is. As long as people crave an intelligent, suspenseful horror movie as a respite from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"-style gorefests, "Psycho" can be assured of its firm place in the cinematic cosmos.
There are few films that can make the claim of being regarded as the best
film ever made. "Citizen Kane" could. "Casablanca" could. But here on IMDb,
"The Godfather" reigns supreme, and with good reason.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that The Godfather is a mobster movie, focusing on action, violence, and Tommy guns. Think of the title, and what it implies. The movie could have been titled "The Mafia", "The Don", or a dozen other things, but instead, they chose a familial word for this film. Thus, it must be the family, and specifically, the role of Godfather, that must be the film's subject.
There are three Godfathers that this movie examines: Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), Sonny Corleone (James Caan), and Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). All three have their defining traits; Vito his traditional views, Sonny his furious temper, and Michael his reluctance to enter into the family business. Through the leadership of each, the movie follows the story of the Corleone family as they cope with joy and sadness, and life and death.
One of the most enduring aspects of The Godfather is its score. Probably behind only the works of John Williams (Jaws, Star Wars, Indiana Jones) in its recognizability, the familiar theme form The Godfather has become the theme for the mafia and every stereotyped Italian mobster group the world over. Likewise, infamous scenes such as that involving the surprise left for the stubborn director have ingrained themselves into the realm of organized crime forever.
The story that The Godfather tells is superb. As power transfers from one leader to the next, we hope for the best for people that are ultimately criminals. How was director Francis Ford Coppola able to humanize figures that would typically be stereotyped? By infusing them with life and background, and showing to the audience that even the hardest mafia hitman has a softer side.
The Godfather has accomplished a feat few films have: winning enough critical and audience acclaim to cement itself in cinema history forever. As long as people desire to experience human drama on an intimate level, The Godfather will "make them an offer they can't refuse".
Casablanca is one of the most highly-regarded films of all time, by critics
and viewers alike. There is something in it for everybody: action, suspense,
humor, and romance. Though that may sound like a line ripped from a movie
poster, Casablanca deftly balances its time between these varied roles to
emerge as one of the most well-rounded films in all of
The story is simple: Rick runs a café in Morocco, a haven for those oppressed by the Nazi regime in 1940's Europe. "Rick's Café Americain", as it is called, is a refuge for both Americans and those simply down on their luck. One day, Rick's old flame, Ilsa, arrive in Casablanca, her husband in tow. She is not exactly welcomed. As Rick puts it, "of all the gin joints in all the world you had to walk into this one".
Above all, Casablanca is vivid. Though that may seem like an inaccuracy, given that the film is in black and white, there are other ways for vividness to manifest itself than through color.
Monochrome though it may be, the contrast between blacks and whites, between sunlight and shadow in Casablanca is intense. Rick seems trapped in darkness as he stews after hours in his café. Ilsa seems nearly angelic in many scenes, her white face and clothes shining in soft focus.
The film seems itself to sweat. Outdoor shots appear muggy, humid, and uncomfortably warm; many shots seem intentionally blurred, ever so slightly, to give the impression of heat in the air distorting the picture, or perhaps salty sweat obscuring the vision of the camera.
The performances in Casablanca are top-notch. Talented character actors such as Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet (both of "Maltese Falcon" fame) and Claude Rains create convincing and memorable characters, while leading stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman shine as the main characters, Rick and Ilsa.
Casablanca endures as a pop culture icon, many of its lines achieving catchphrase status. The never-uttered "play it again Sam", Rick's oft-repeated "here's looking at you, kid", and the movie-ending "this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" are all well-known, and frequently referenced in other works. It endures because though the story may take place in a specific time, the idea of the film is timeless: to sacrifice what you want most for what you know is best. It is the ultimate human ideal, and just as that ideal is held high, so is Casablanca.
What Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis do in "Some Like it Hot" would be par for
the course in modern movies every other month, similar fish-out-of-water
movies premiere with men posing as women ("Tootsie"), women posing as men
("The Associate"), black people posing as white people ("White Chicks"), and
on and on. What makes "Some Like it Hot" different is two things: the
strength of its comedy, and the presence of Marilyn Monroe, then at the
height of stardom.
Lemmon and Curtis turn in admirable performances both as Joe and Jerry, and as Josephine and Daphne. Tony Curtis does Lemmon one better by creating a third identity, "Junior", in order to woo Sugar Kane (Monroe).
Tying the pair's story into the Chicago Valentine's Day Massacre, where a gang war spilled over into a parking garage, leaving a number of people lined up against the wall and shot, is a deft touch (though the serious tone of these gang sequences contrasts sharply with the bulk of the movie).
The movie does an excellent job building the far-fetched stakes of the movie ever-higher, from their finding refuge from vengeful gangs in a women's jazz band, to their showdown in the Florida hotel, to the eventual revealing of Curtis' and Lemmon's identities. The movie's surprisingly suggestive and risque content is at odds with the time frame of the movie, and even with the period of the movie's creation. The many smart double-entendres and plays on words are very well-written, and alternate between lowbrow and highbrow comedy,
The films only fault might be a couple of overlong musical numbers, performed either by the whole band or soloed by Sugar Kane. Though to be expected in a Marilyn Monroe film, these musical acts are literal "show stoppers" that bring the comedic momentum of the film to a screeching halt. However, it is easy to over look these minor defects in the movie as a whole, because by and large it is quite funny no wonder it s considered a classic and after all, "nobody's perfect".
"Rebel Without a Cause" is the teen angst movie to end all teen angst
movies, largely thanks to James Dean's nuanced performance. "Rebel" invented
the teen angst genre, a genre has been popular ever since, with constantly
Hollywood churning out teen movies at a furious pace. The strength of this
movie lies not within its story, which is nothing special until the closing
moments of the film. It is special because of the power of its performances,
and because it was James Dean's last movie before the car crash that claimed
The story of "Rebel Without a Cause" is simple, a format followed often by subsequent films in the same genre. Jim Stark (Dean) is a troublemaker who has recently arrived in town. It is clear that Stark is not a bad kid at heart, just misunderstood by his parents and acting out in hopes of getting their attention. It's a setup that has become as cliched as the teen movie genre as a whole.
Jim Stark is the core of this movie; everything else revolves around him. The movie follows his attempts to fit in and make friends with some of his new peers, a process made more difficult by the tight cliques and gangs already in place. Stark befriends a student nicknamed "Plato" (Sal Mineo), mostly because they are both outcasts in the society of the high school. Stark also attempts to befriend Judy (Natalie Wood), and though she rebuffs his advances early on, she grows to like him and clings to Jim after the tragedy of the chicken race off the cliff.
The trio's attempts to find solace are interrupted by vengeful friends of Judy's dead boyfriend, out for Jim Stark's blood. Plato is pushed over the edge by the actions of the gang members, and the film ends in one of cinema's greatest and most gripping climaxes.
"Rebel Without a Cause" is important both as a piece of film history for James Dean, and as a portrait of the increasingly disaffected youth of America and the growing rift between they and their parents. It is clear that the seeds of the1960's culture revolution are present in these teens, as they rebel against their parents and societal norms together, in order to form their own society.
The parallels drawn between families, gangs, and friends also shows the three groups to be not that different, and that those teens who cannot find love and affection at home such as Judy will often find it in groups that act as stand-ins for family. Perhaps the most engaging part of the story is Jim's efforts to reconcile with his parents, especially his weak father (Jim Backus, of "Mr. Howell" fame on Gilligan's Island) who is controlled by his domineering wife.
By the movie's end, things are finally looking up for Jim, despite a turn for the worse for Plato. He seems truly happy with Judy, and his father seems to finally come into his own and stand up for his son. The message of the film is to fight for what you believe in, even if you don't have anything to believe in yet; as happened for Jim, what you believe in may make itself obvious if you choose to take risks and make a stand. Though Jim Stark may have begun the film as a rebel without a cause, by the time the credits roll, he has found one that he is willing to fight for.
"Rear Window" is, as "Rope" was, a study of setting a story in a confined
place. "Rope is notable for the smallness of its set; one studio apartment,
rarely leaving the main living, and edited in such a way as to appear as one
continuous take. "Rear Window" is famous for just the opposite; it had a
giant set, occupying he biggest studio on the lot, with and extra level
excavated to provide a life-sized, four-story set. Hitchcock also uses many
more cuts, using the shot-reaction-shot technique with L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy
Stewart) as he uses cameras and binoculars to observe the goings on outside
the rear widow of his apartment.
The main theme of "Rear Window is privacy how far those standards extend, and what people do when they think they are secure in the privacy of their own home. Jeffries, a magazine photographer trapped in his apartment with a broken leg, turns to the view out his window to while away the hours until his cast comes off. His only contact with the outside world arrives in the form of his nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), and female friend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), a rich socialite who has a romantic interest in Jeffries (who seems to abandon his photographer skills as an observer when it comes to her).
Hitchcock played with audiences by having them play the role of voyeur along with Jeffries he knew that human nature compels us to keep staring, even when polite society tells us to look away and mind our own business. By capturing our interest with a variety of characters and a portion of their lives Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso, etc. Hitchcock creates an interesting character study as well as his usual thriller. We are only allowed to see what Jeffries sees, bits and pieces presented out of context, and we are left to make our own theories about what these bits mean in the overall lives of these characters.
The main focus of the movie is Jeffries suspicion of Lars Thorwald, who occupies a second-story apartment across from Jeffries'. He notices Thorwald's strained relationship with his wife, then her sudden disappearance. A number of events that could be related follows. As he pries more and more into Thorvald's life, he gets closer and closer to the man himself; climaxing in Lisa's entry into Thorwald's home to search for clues, and the mano-a-mano confrontation between the Jeffries and Thorwald at the film's end.
By the movie's end, resolution has been achieved for most of the characters in the film; the truth about Thorwald is discovered, Miss Torso's husband arrives back from war, the couple that sleeps outside is training a new puppy, Miss Lonelyhearts and the musician with the studio apartment have linked up romantically. Even pessimistic Jeffries, bound yet again in his apartment with two broken legs, has found resolution, finally accepting Lisa as an equal. As the movie ends, the shutters on the window are drawn he doesn't need them anymore.
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", though overly sentimental and a bit over the
top at its climax, provides a unique look at what America of the late 1930's
wanted itself to be for "Mr. Smith", both as a movie and as a character,
is the ideal political drama. A regular, average-joe citizen (Jimmy Stewart)
finds himself an emergency appointee in the wake of a senator's death. Even
though this average-joe, Jefferson Smith, is a naïve country boy planted by
a political machine, he still somehow fights a David and Goliath battle
against dishonest businessmen and politicians.
This is the state of politics America wanted to be true, then and now. It has a cynical press that first defames Smith, then later sides with him in his epic political fight. It has a well-oiled political machine that first destroys Smith, then is destroyed by him. Time and again throughout the movie, the pure idealism exuded by Smith wins over every one around him (most comically the Vice President himself) and leads him to triumph over his enemies.
This idealized view of US politics came at a critical point in US history: in 1939, Hitler was well on his way to conquering Poland and the rest of Europe, sowing the seeds of World War II. Director Frank Capra's congressional refresher course served to remind Americans what separated them from their enemies and made their liberties worth protecting (a concept Capra would revisit in his "Why We Fight" series of propaganda films for the US government)
If Smith's naivete is played up (especially in a handful of romantic scenes), it is only to further drive home the point that the US system allows for even those such as Mr. Smith to create political change at least in the world of the movie. The resolution of the climax is also quite melodramatic, with a Perry Mason-esque shouted confession from the guilty party and a subsequence nervous collapse.
Overall, "Mr. Smith" is ultimately a product of its time. Sentimental? Yes. Melodramatic? Yes. Over the top? Yes. But all this was a purposeful move by Capra to show off the power and freedom afforded by the US political system. As a period piece, a political film, and simply as an enjoyable tale about overcoming adversity in the name of truth, "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" will live on as one of both Capra's and Stewart's best films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Neal Page is a pretty average guy. He has a job a businessman, is married,
and has a good family. His job requires him to travel a lot, sometimes even
near holidays. "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" details Neal's quest to
return home for Thanksgiving, literally using every mode of transportation
mentioned in the title.
In the realm of movie clichés, anyone trying to get anywhere to meet some kind of deadline will encounter what seems to be an entire world full of people with the single purpose of delaying the hero. Neal Page (Steve Martin) needs no such world; the force of one man is all he needs to stand in his way. This man is Del Griffith (John Candy), the inescapable cause for all of Neal's troubles.
Del starts off by stealing Neal's cab, thereby threatening Neal with the possibility of missing his flight. As can be expected in a comedy of this genre, Neal uses extraordinary means to get to the airport on time, makes his flight only to encounter Del yet again, and only to be beset by further delays. Repeat this formula for 90 minutes, raise the stakes as you go along, and you've got yourself a pretty funny, if far-fetched, movie.
"Planes, Trains and Automobiles" reaches greatness not with its material, but with its fine acting from Steve Martin and John Candy. Both do an excellent job portraying men at the end of their respective ropes. Both also have a great sense of comedic timing, making jokes that otherwise would fall flat work.
This isn't any outstanding example of cinema, American or otherwise; it's just a good movie. A little better than middle-of-the-road, but comfortably and enjoyably so. Not every movie needs to try to be groundbreaking and cutting-edge, and this one wisely doesn't. Based on what the performers have done with what they've been given, and especially in light of the upbeat message about friendship and family contained in the tail end of the film, this movie deserves a better-than-average B.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's hard to believe that "Hannah and Her Sisters", which begins as a tale
of marital infidelity and general depression, ends on such a high note as
this one. Well-acted and well-scripted, this movie has the hallmarks of an
80's-era Woody Allen film all over it (Allen as a neurotic worker in the
entertainment business, a setting in New York City, an ensemble cast, etc.).
The characters in this movie go through a very convincing plot arch, all
concerning their various romantic entanglements.
Elliot (Michael Caine) is the one who sets it off. He is married to the movie's titular Hannah, but his affections are directed elsewhere: at one of Hannah's two sisters, Lee (Barbara Hershey). Lee is already involved with another man, a moody artist named Frederick (Max von Sydow), but once Elliot makes his feelings for her known, she leaves Frederick and begins an affair with Elliot.
The subplot of "Hannah" deals with Mickey Sachs, a hypochondriac TV producer and the ex-husband of Hannah. Mickey's hypochondria and general neurosis provide many of the films laughs, as well as its more emotional moments. Mickey's hypochondria turns out to be well-placed for once when he discovers that some symptoms he's had are indicative of a cancerous brain tumor. After a period of soul-searching, even contemplating suicide, Mickey finally has an epiphany: he's not dead yet. Why should he live like he is?
This realization is at the crux of many of the films developments. Mickey's newfound will to live doesn't influence these events, but things all start to turn around at the same point. The affair between Elliot and Lee is growing more painful, and Lee begins to be drawn toward another man. Mickey starts dating Hannah's younger sister, Holly (Dianne West). With so many changes and such dire situations, it's hard to believe that anything will turn out right for anyone.
But, incredibly (and more importantly, believably), it does. Mickey's relationship with Holly leads to marriage, and Holly's scriptwriting dreams are reaching fruition. Lee is happily attached to a new man, and Elliot has return to Hannah, realizing his love for her. What began as a fracturing family on a Thanksgiving two years earlier is now a stable one.
Many argue that "Hannah and Her Sisters" is Woody Allen's best film, and one of the best films of the 80's. Having seen it, it's a hard position to dispute. The movie is a tale of believable characters getting into believable bad situations and believably redeeming themselves; believability is at the core of this movie. Strongly reminiscent of a Seinfeld-esque sensibility (as Seinfeld was "the show about nothing") so do we delve into the minutiae of character's lives in this movie.
Even though the film's happy ending was at the behest of a movie studio looking for a more uplifting movie, it is still powerful and entertaining. If Woody Allen could continue to direct and star in movies of this quality, he would have never reached Hollywood's B-list of performers.
In the end, I'd rate this movie a 9 out of 10; great, but not perfect.
When director Bob Clark was making "A Christmas Story" in 1983, he probably
didn't know that it would go on to be a classic -- that 20 years after the
fact, there would be cable TV stations that play the movie round the clock
on Christmas day. As far as he knew, he was just converting the popular
written and spoken work of Jean Shepherd, whose essays often dealt with his
childhood in the 1940's Midwest.
Culled from a number of different pieces by Jean Shepherd, and a few inventions of the director and cast, "A Christmas Story" is comprised not of a single story, but a number of Christmastime vignettes featuring the same family, all with a common element running through them (whether in the background or foreground). That element is quest of Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), one of the family's two boys, to receive the ultimate Christmas gift: a Red Ryder BB gun, or as he calls it, "an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle".
Ralphie is absolutely obsessed with obtaining the BB gun. He leaves Red Ryder advertisements in his parents magazines, he fantasizes about saving his family from robbers, and even seeks out Santa's help when him mom tells him "you'll shoot your eye out!" Ralphie's quest is so important to him, his desire so strong, that the viewer can't help but identify with him, even if the Christmas present they once wanted above all others wasn't a BB gun.
The narrative structure employed by "A Christmas Story" is not uncommon -- the most well-known example, apart from the movie itself, is "The Wonder Years", a TV show about a young boy narrated by his adult self. The juxtaposition of young Ralphie's actions with old Ralphie's words and thoughts makes his quest seem even more all-important, and creates not just a little hyperbole on the behalf of the elder Ralphie's memories.
"A Christmas Story" is sweet, but it is far from saccharine. From Ralphie's constantly swearing father (a man seemingly ahead of his time) to the bitter "Battle of the Lamp", the film takes turns satirizing and paying tribute to life in the 1940's, especially during Christmas.
If there is any reason that "A Christmas Story" has risen to stand with such movies as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 13th Street", it's because it is honest. The movie pulls no punches (except perhaps in the case of a certain word that isn't "fudge") and doesn't try to paint an overly idealized or cynical portrait of the era at hand. By using the actual memories of author (and in the movie, narrator) Jean Shepherd, "A Christmas Story" is infused with enough life and relevance to make it worthy of being a Christmas classic.
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