Field and Scream (1955)
Funny little short film about hunting troubles
"Field and Scream" is one of Tex Avery's last works as a cartoon short film director and was written by the prolific Heck Allen. It is actually more of a collection of running gags all related to the topic of hunting than one short film. At that point, the glory years for the genre were pretty much over, although it wasn't as bad yet as it was in the 1960s. The sequences run for 30-45 seconds each and the whole thing is 7 minutes long. Some of the were funny, some of them weren't. I liked the duck undressing and using the parachute and another one that was pretty good was the doofus shooting the hunter and finally being shot himself when imitating his prey. Also I learned that fishing rods in 1950's cartoons were already far more developed than in 2014 reality.
It's a solid work which has its moments, but probably not a must-see unless you want to see every single piece Avery directed.
Great film with one of the most memorable duos in film history
"Lèon" is a 1994 movie written and directed by Luc Besson and named after its central character played by Jean Reno. The film went almost completely under the radar in terms of awards recognition outside of France, but its reputation steadily rose over the years and it is now pretty much considered a classic. Besson was in his mid-30s when he made this movie, but already had a respectable résumé including a French and English version of "Nikita". For Reno and Oldman this is probably still the most famous work (not counting Oldman's efforts in the Batman movies) and for Portman it goes right along with other blockbusters like "V for Vendetta" and "Black Swan", which gave her the Oscar. I am still a bit disappointed Reno was not present at the ceremony. For Portman, Mathilda was the first role in a movie. Also in the film is Danny Aiello as a friend to Léon. His role wasn't clear early on to me as it seemed unsure what he was doing with the money, but as the film went on it showed that he was pretty close to Léon.
The film begins with an introduction to what Léon does. He is a contract killer, who, in fact only want a little talk as we find out in the first sequence. The way he disappears into the dark is pretty cool. What is a more sad than cool is the one scene where Léon's loneliness is displayed. However, when we see him in the theater he does not seem to mind at all. His face expression while watching the movie is so much fun. He is also a milk junkie (just like myself). Sadly, I got no little girl that brings all this milk to me. There is many cult references closely connected with this film: the shades, the long coat, the piggy, the plant (rootless like Léon, nice quote), the chewing gum trick... After the intro, Portman and Oldman (character name Stansfield, a pill-popping Beethoven-listening psychopath cop) pretty much enter the film at the same time. Oldman's character is really scary, even his colleagues fear him. If you listen closely, Matilda's dad only dares to shout at Stansfield's partner Malky, not at him. The fact that Oldman is not physically intimidating at all makes him even scarier as he must be a complete nutcase if people three times his size fear him. Another little snippet: One of the actors who play Stansfield's helpers died during the terrorist attacks on 9/11 during his work as a firefighter 7 years after the movie. When Mathilda's family is killed, the writers already gave it their best to make them look as unlikeable as possible being very violent to their daughter/sister, except the very small one of course. It's pretty sad when Mathilda describes him as a kid who only wanted to cuddle. However, we also find out that her dad paid a tuition fee for one year in advance, so he can't be all bad. I wondered about Oldman's character why the internal commission isn't getting worried if so many people that cross his way keep dying.
One of my favorite scenes from the film is when Mathilda returns with the milk, hears her family is dead and knocks on Léon's door. Very intense moment with her begging going against his principles. Finally he lets her in, physically and mentally into his life. He becomes her mentor, she becomes his housewife and quickly develops some sexual tension (quiz game for example or talk about virginity as well being at an age where girls start dating their classmates. She doesn't go to school, so there is no such possibility. At the same time, Léon also plays some kind of father figure to her. She looks up to him and also starts dressing more and more like him. Even if she seems very tough, there's a handful scenes where we see how immature and naive she really is, like when she tells the hotel worker that Léon is her lover or also her cartoon addiction or how she pours in the alcohol.
The movie is at its most entertaining when the two go to work together. The scene with LaSardo (great actor) is pure gold and when they shoot the jogging politician from far away, it is also slightly special. Another funny comment by Léon is the "hurry or he will never shut up" after they run into gunshots. An emotional highlight is Mathilda's attempted suicide. She asks him what she is to him. He says nothing, yet contradicts himself by pulling the gun away in time. Almost a bit of a spoiler scene is when Léon tells Aiello's character to give Mathilda the money if something happens to him. One of the most intense scenes is when Stansfield and Mathilda meet in the bathroom. Edge-of-the-seat stuff and it shows that Stansfield is really scared of nothing, not even killing a girl in police headquarters. The possibly most beautiful camera shot of the film is when we see Léon and Mathilda reunited at one point and the camera shows us their feet. The last half hour is almost exclusively action sequences. I enjoyed these despite generally not being a great action movie fan. Maybe the reason is because you made such a strong connection to the two protagonists at this point already. Oldman's way of handling the final act says a lot about him as well. He stays outside of the action to not put his own life in danger, but is a coward who prefers to shoot his victims in the back. When Léon hits the ground, it is a pretty sad moment (just like the farewell scene a couple minutes earlier) as we see it from his perspective. The film ends with Mathilda deciding to go back to school and a beautiful Sting song before the credits roll in.
Wonderful movie, over 2 hours very much worth watching.
The end of the Black Pearl? The end of Jack Sparrow?
"Dead Man's Chest" is the second entry in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise,directed just like 1 and 3 by Gore Verbinski and Elliott and Rosso are back as writers too. I felt that in this movie, Jack Sparrow was not the central character, but Orlando Bloom's was. Which hurt the movie a lot as Bloom still needs to convince me as a dramatic actor and he did not even pull off the hero part here in a way that i liked it. But don't worry. Knightley is a lot in as well, mostly as female pirate this time and Johnny Depp gets lots of screen time again as well and was maybe the best thing about the film. Sparrow and Swann get even more sexual tension than in the first movie where there was only the island scene. Here at some point you could maybe even wonder for a moment if they become a couple. The film has a father-son storyline (Skarsgård, Bloom) and the main antagonist, the scary octopus pirate Davy Jones is played by Bill Nighy. He was really good, though not as good as Rush in the first movie. But at the end it is revealed that Rush and Nighy will be in part 3, which makes me really curious.
Apart from that, the story was slightly weaker than in the first movie, the visual side was equally strong and even won an Academy Award this time, maybe mostly thanks to the spectacular final kraken fight scene. How did one single shot from Sparrow's gun manage to chase the kraken away though for a moment? The black-spots-on-the-hand plot did not really do much for me, so I could have done without it unless it is really elaborated in the next film. The topic is a very traditional one in terms of pirate stories: the hunt for a key and a treasure chest. Some animals are included, a parrot, a small monkey and also a dog very brief. All in all, it is a family movie, maybe not for the very small ones, but the few violent scenes are not particularly graphic or are over very quickly. The commodore, or I should say ex-commodore, played by Jack Davenport is back too, but I have to say unlike the first film he did not do really much for me in this one. There's some human enemies trying to hang the protagonists (for helping Jack Sparrow) escape at the start of the film, but in terms of enemies it is really all about Davy Jones here. Great character and I loved his immediate black up in anger when he sees the chest is empty.
Sparrow himself was a bit of an anti-hero again. His return to the ship is displayed as heroic. But he gets punished hard for it. However, there was a reference early on how he kept calling himself Captain even when he had no ship, so he was probably obliged to return as a real captain would and his honor told him to. As a whole, this is a decent film, slightly worse than the original maybe, but not by much. Here and there they could have cut a scene and kept it closer to 2 hours without hurting the overall outcome, but even this way I still recommend it.
Death Valley 69 (1986)
Quite a mess really
The music video for Sonic Youth' "Death Valley 69" was directed by Richard Kern back in 1986. He made short films for two years at this point, so he was relatively new to the movie industry, although those were 2 pretty prolific years. If you have seen some of his other works, you may recognize his touch in here. There is some obscenity, some violence, some blood, some knife action and also some concert footage.
The song did not appeal to me at all and the video quality was pretty horrible too. It doesn't look 1986 at all. It's obviously on purpose to make the piece look raw and artistic, but it doesn't do anything for me. Not recommended and I suggest you only take a look if you like Kern's other work.
The Gorilla Mystery (1930)
Early unimpressive Mickey Mouse short film in black and white
"The Gorilla Mystery" is actually not much of a mystery as the newspaper tells us, or lets say Mickey (voiced by the master himself) tells us this time not in his usually squeaky voice that a giant gorilla has escaped. The gorilla looks more like a monster in fact. He calls Minnie right away, but she doesn't care much or even understand her hectic boyfriend and just decides to play a piano piece for him. Mickey enjoys it until the very moment the gorilla comes through Minnie's window and kidnaps her. Mickey, though pretty scared himself, immediately runs to Minnie's house. Afterward, he struggles more with a duck, some hens and a parrot than finally against the gorilla. with Minnie's help they capture him and the day is saved.
There's many better Disney and Mickey Mouse short films out there, so I would say "The Gorilla Mystery" is really only one for Disney completionists.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Bond in Japan - great entertainment for slightly under two hours
It is almost 50 years now since "You Only Live Twice" was released. This was Sean Connery's fifth Bond movie since 1962 and the final one before his two comebacks. It's directed by Lewis Gilbert, not too known by many, but he directed Michael Caine to 2 Academy Award nominations and directed also two Roger Moore Bond movies in the late 1970s. The script comes from notable children's book author Roald Dahl. A completely different direction he takes here. Apart from the usual Bond movie actors (Moneypenny funny as always, Q and M only very little screen time), the cast is fairly unknown here. Two young Japanese actresses play the Bond girls and Karen Dor is included for those who prefer their Bond girls good old Caucasian style. These three are also the only ones who are still alive from the main cast, apart from Connery of course.
We are pretty lucky Bond did not really die as we are shown very early in the film. Oh how much fun would we have missed in this movie and everything that came afterward. "You Only Live Twice" is probably one of the most macho Bond films. there's some quite naughty stuff included here, although as you know it from Bond movies mostly through implications and bait. What is a bit uncommon is that Bond in the end here has an huge squad fighting with him which consists of kidnapped space craft pilots and ninja fighters. Another really interesting fact about this movie are the references to the age of space exploration in the 1960s. Two years after this film came out, Americans set foot on the moon for the first time. Apart from that, the Cold War topic works very well too with the political climate back in the day.
This film gave us the real introduction of SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld played by Donald Pleasence, an actor I really like and it's a bit of a pity he did not reprise his role in the later films. This is no criticism on the future Blofeld actors though. Blofeld also delivers the excellent quote that was used for the film's title. Interesting snippet: The actor who plays Bond's unlucky colleague Henderson here (nice metal leg reference, great love to detail in the script), Charles Gray, later returned to the franchise as Blofeld. Specter has a big blond helper called Hans, who has a tough fight with Bond near the end and who is as silent as far more famous Jaws and Oddjob.
The movie has many great spy scenes, good fight sequences and lots of wit. In the second half you can add some action sequences too. However, all in all I think I preferred the first half. The 1 vs. 4 plane fight did not do too much for me, just like the ninja training camp scenes. I preferred the scene where he has to get free and land the machine after Karen Dor's character left him to die in a plane crash. The character's name was Helga Brandt by the way. She joins Irma Bunt and Rosa Klebb in the list of female henchmen with German names in the early Bond movies, although I find the other two more memorable.
To sum it all up, I want to say that I really recommend this film. It is a classic and one of my favorite James Bond movies. It has many many great scenes (the drop of poison, Bond's death early on, Henderson's death and Bond's way to get to the killers' headquarter, the space scenes and many more). It is certainly worth watching, for example while you are waiting for the next Bond movie in this eternal franchise, which is fittingly named "Spectre".
The Tree of Life (2011)
Different yes, but not really in a good way
"The Tree of Life" written and directed by Terrence Malick scored Oscar nominations for its director, for Best Picture and the cinematography. For Lubezki it was already the fifth unsuccessful cinematography nomination until he finally managed the win with his work for "Gravity". I would say that "The Tree of Life" is really more of an experience than a movie. In order to fully enjoy it, you will have to identify with any of the characters/story lines included. I did not and that is why only some scenes really wowed me, mostly in the first 45 minutes. The film runs for no less that 2 hours and 15 minutes and I can't deny there were several parts where it really dragged a lot.
What I liked was the documentary aspect in the first half as well as the acting from Chastain as a tender mother, Penn and especially Pitt as the unrelenting father. The kids actor did not really wow me. I am particularly surprised how much praise McCracken got here. I did not feel he raised the movie in any way quality-wise. The film is packed with metaphors from start to finish, but there is really not much action. It is about a child's death which happens in the first 10 minutes already and the rest is about everybody near the boy mourning and dealing with grief in their very own way. The film is pretty religious too, especially early on. It is said at one point that the boy is with God now and that he actually always was. The father-son relationship may very well be the most interesting part of the whole movie.
The film is decent to look at, has good music and nice costumes, but all this is not enough as the script did almost nothing for me. At least, the ending at the beach made it at least a bit worth to sit through the unappealing previous 2 hours. Anyway, I felt the title "Tree of Life" was fairly random and I have no urge to watch it again anytime soon.
Good start to a long-lasting franchise
The very first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie was a huge success at the box office and at awards ceremonies. It was no°3 at the box office behind the final "Lord of the Rings" chapter and "Finding Nemo". Also it received 5 Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Depp (his first nomination ever) and also an SAG Award for him. That is also why there have been 3 sequels already, no°4 is safe and number looks likely too. The first one (just like 2 and 3) was directed by Gore Verbinski, who kept reuniting with Depp after his exit from the Pirates-franchise. The writing team already worked together on animation classics like "Shrek" and "Aladdin". My favorite part from the script was possibly the "saving the one shot"-storyline and the final shot was one of the highlights of the movie. I was a bit surprised the crew went according to protocol at some point as they seemed extremely loyal to Sparrow initially, but I guess it shows that you can never trust pirates. Thank God Captain Sparrow survived all these dangerous situations early on like the hail of bullets after he saved and threatened Elizabeth Swann or when he almost gets hung near the end of the film. Actually that could have been a nice ending if they hadn't done all these sequels. A bit unexpected, but somehow different.
I also thought Geoffrey Rush did a good job with his character (but that's a given as it's Geoffrey Rush), the main antagonist to Sparrow. His death scene near the end was pretty special. I guess they did not plan to include him in the sequels, but they were wrong. Let's see how they bring him back. Another antagonist, the commodore, I was really fond of. I almost cheered for him more than for Bloom's character (just like Sparrow). It was actually nice for a change to see the rival to be displayed in not such a bad light. I found him likable and you could even call him a hero. Knightley did a solid job too and I liked Depp as well. I'm not his biggest fan, but here he convinced me and made me laugh too. He is a very costume-oriented actor if you look at his body of work and Jack Sparrow may very well be his most memorable role. Orlando Bloom unfortunately still does nothing for me. He is all about his looks and little about being a talented actor in my opinion. This franchise started right after "The Lord of the Rings", so they cast him as a crowd magnet I guess. The film is mostly a family movie. Here and there, there is a bit of violence, like ghost pirates cutting throats of Navy officers, but it's all not too graphic or very fast over.
Another strength about the film is the music. I am a bit surprised Zimmer was completely snubbed by everybody that awards season as his soundtrack is certainly one of the most memorable from 2003 and pretty much everybody has heard the main theme.
Room on the Broom (2012)
If you liked the Gruffalo, then this deserves a chance.
"Room on the Broom" is an Academy-Award nominated, 25-minute short film by Jan Lachauer, Max Lang and Julia Donaldson. Two of these already worked on "The Gruffalo" together and that is why you will find a couple similarities apart from the rhymes. For example the scene near the end with the "monster" chasing away the dragon is very similar in tone and style to the ending from "The Gruffalo". The animation is very clean and precise and the group of animals reminded me already of the Bremen Town Musicians before they stood atop on each other near the end. The main character is a witch with all the usual traits, the broom, the long nose, the hat, the mole and the not so attractive appearance. However, in contrast to Disney's usual approach it is a good witch, actually one of the most likable animated characters in recent years.
I liked that this short film also included animals who would not join the witch on the broom, so you could wonder a bit what the next one is gonna be. The funny highlight here is the cat and its constant skepticism when the witch invites the next guest to the broom. The dramatic highlight near the end is nicely done. The eyes of the dragon near the witch really give off a scary vibe and the chase scene is pretty dramatic too. In order to make it not too scary, they included some funny, quite bizarre rhyming for the dragon including the witch being his meal with or without chips. That was funny in an odd way. The ending not much later is decent. I liked the design of the new broom and how everybody has their space, but I did not like that it was handled a bit more emotional than it actually was with the music and everything.
All in all, this is, despite the Oscar nomination, really more suitable for children although I cannot deny I had a good time watching it, maybe because my inner child is still alive and kicking.
Tangled Ever After (2012)
Dream wedding with obstacles
"Tangled Ever After" is a nice little add-on for those who enjoyed the Academy-Award nominated feature starring Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi. Without having seen the original film, it's pointless to watch though, but why would you. It's directed by Greno and Howard again and also features the voice cast from the film, although they don't really have that much to say. Basically, in these under 7 minutes, we follow the two main characters's BAFFs (best animal friends forever) trying to get back the wedding rings for their masters. Hands down, Gollum couldn't do their job any better. They really give it their best. There's lots of action in here and it happens something new pretty much each second for the entirety of the short film.
The good thing about it is that you get to see pretty much every character from the film (Flynn's friends, Rapunzell's family), even if only for a very brief moment. I also liked the lantern reference to the "I See The Light"-scene, one of 2010's finest. The cake ending was pretty funny as well. This short film was published roughly a year after the original movie and though it did not blow me away, it is 7 minutes worth spending.