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Barry Lyndon (1975)
One of a kind film
Barry Lyndon is a one of a kind film. Every shot that Kubrick set up look like a painting. The use of mostly natural light, especially the candle-lit scenes really give Barry Lyndon a feeling as though someone grabbed a camera, then hopped into a time machine to film 18th century conversations. But all look and no plot do not make for good movies, but Barry Lyndon is a very interesting character. His moving from one place to another to try and up his social standing allows for the epic scope to be used for a very personal story. I found the most interesting aspect of his character to be his disdain for his stepson, and the resulting fistfight and later duel. Ryan O'Neill isn't especially great as Barry Lyndon, but it might be his best performance. He at least characterizes Lyndon as someone that could easily disappear into the shadows. He is not bombastic nor is he necessarily charming. But the most important thing about the movie is the cinematography. Every shot looks like a painting. The compositions work unlike any other movie I can think of. I recommend Barry Lyndon with only the reservation that it is a long movie, and you have to invest not only time, but you to be ready to study every inch of every frame just as you would a a painting by one of the masters.
The Westerner (1940)
One of the Greatest Performances in History
I would have to say the Walter Brennan's performance in The Westerner is one of the greatest performances ever put on the silver screen. His Judge Roy Bean is so nuanced and surprising for a studio system western. He adds so much depth to a seemingly unsympathetic character that in the end I was really hoping that he would get to meet Lily Langtry. To be honest it was really a leading and not a supporting performance, but I am very happy that Walter Brennan was given an Academy Award for this performance.
I also have to say I am not usually a big Gary Cooper fan, but I really liked him in this role. Of course having a magnificent director like William Wyler and Gregg Toland doing photography is always going to make a beautiful looking film, but the performances really put this movie over the top as not only one of the greatest westerners of all time, but one of the greatest American movies of all time. No doubt it is a 10 out of 10.
Perhaps its all one big joke
Okay, I'm watching all of John Ford's movies in order right now. I just finished watching Salute, and I will say one of two things happened during the making of it. Either John Ford was briefly sucked into another dimension or Ford is playing a big joke on all of us.
If I had seen this movie on TCM without seeing the credits I think I would have assumed that it was some rarely seen B-movie directed by someone I'd never heard of, but this was Fox's biggest grosser of 1929.
I really can't explain what is going on in the movie. It really is almost plot less with little vignettes of new recruits lives at the naval academy. It was really cool to see John Wayne and Ward Bond in the earliest speaking roles I have seen, but they really weren't actors then and their line readings are so stilted, but not just those two everybody talks bizarrely. Not to mention Stepin Fetchit who has to be the most bizarre character I've ever seen.
I mean there is the whole setup of these to brothers being in the military, but all that ever happens is that they play football.
Somehow this movie felt like it was a home movie that was released accidentally, I really can't see John Ford directing John Wayne to throw a pie at someone's face.
My conclusion is that John Ford and the crew must have gotten drunk, Ford passed out they kept the cameras rolling, all of the actors filmed their improvisations, then Ford woke up and edited together in something that might vaguely resemble a movie.
I can't rate this because I'm not sure if its a work of genius or the accidental work of a sleeping man., or maybe I was right in the beginning...its all one big practical joke on the audience.
The Black Watch (1929)
Ford's first sound feature, underrated
John Ford is in my opinion the greatest director that ever lived, and he rarely ever made a misstep. Many people have listed The Black Watch as a misstep, but in context I do not think that it is. It is true that it is dated in the way that the dialogue is spoken, but find me one sound picture from 1929 that is not.
The problem was with sound pictures themselves, the movies had developed into near perfection in 1927-1928. But then sound became all the rage, and it wasn't profitable anymore for the studios to invest in silent movies. So the masterpieces of the late silent era were put on the back burner for stagy dramas with too much dialog or musicals even more stagy than the dramas.
The Black Watch has Ford's German expressionism influenced photography that he started in the late twenties after meeting F.W. Murnau. It also has the Ford themes of Integration into a society, self sacrifice, and the bond between men.
The one major drawback is the extremely stilted dialogue. No one really understood at the time how sound should be recorded live, which led to really irregular ways of saying lines. With long pauses between each others lines, since they did not want to step on each others' lines, so as to overwork the early microphones.
Victor McLaughlin's acting wasn't his best, but he was much better than Myrna Loy who honestly seemed as though she had been hypnotized before going on the set. I thought the guy who asked forforgiveness for his violence towards his fellow man, who would then do something violent was funny.
Compared to all of John Ford's other films this is near the bottom, but compared to everything else made in sound in 1929 this is at the top of the heap.
So many problems
I had been wanting to see this movie for a long time before I rented it today on HD-DVD. I really hated it. I have to say that Jennifer Hudson's performance as Effie is the worst Oscar winning performance I have ever seen, and I have seen almost every Oscar winning performance. She proved to be what she is...an amateur.
Speaking of bad performances, Beyonce says that this was her first "real" acting performance, but I thought she was actually better in other movies I've seen. Hudson and Beyonce's dialogue scenes are cringeworthy in their stiltedness.
I thought Jamie Foxx's realization out of nowhere at the end that it was his child was one of the goofiest things I've ever seen.
I thought the direction could have been a lot better, I was confused by some of the time periods once it moved to the 70s, and there were a lot of anachronisms, and it definitely went about an hour too long.
I also wish that the songs sounded more from the time period rather than from a modern musical, like using mono for the early scenes.
I thought Jamie Foxx was pretty good, and I really liked Keith Robinson. I thought Eddie Murphy gave a completely overrated performance. I am so glad he did not win the Oscar, I just didn't see anything outstanding on his part.
I really wanted to enjoy this movie, but it just wore on my nerves, and the is some of the worst acting I have ever seen in a blockbuster movie. 2 out of 10
Sally of the Sawdust (1925)
Beautiful print, boring movie
I really wanted to like this movie since I am going through W.C. Fields' films. I just became really bored especially towards the end. It seemed like the courtroom scene was so repetitive, and long, and dull. I remember Buster Keaton talking about how he hated this kind of movie, in which one line of dialogue ("This is your granddaughter") would end the movie. It just doesn't ring true. I also am not a big Carol Dempster fan, I think she is good in light comedy, but not in drama. I did enjoy seeing some of Fields' routines, but they were few and far between. However, the print was amazing looking, and music worked well with the movie. 5 out of 10, in my opinion.
In Spite of everything, It's still a masterpiece.
It has been discussed a million times about Greed being cut down from an 8 to 10 hour movie to a 2 hour movie, so I will not go into that.
What is important is that Erich von Stroheim made an amazing movie at any length. It is a shame that Stroheim did not live in a time when the 130 minute cut would be released to theaters and the long version is released on DVD as the "Unrated Version" to try to boost sales, like now days. However, the visuals are some of the best in any movie ever made in the history of cinema. I am so glad that the restored 4 hour version with the stills has added the gold tenting and stenciling to the scenes as they originally were made. The acting is maybe the best in any silent cinema drama. Stroheim liked using comic actors for his dramas, he felt they had more understated actions to their acting as compared to the over-acting of the popular dramatic actors of the day. This is the essence of Erich von Stroheim's cinema. He cared more about realism than almost anything else. He used actual cramped apartments for the cramped apartments in the film. He even filmed in the actual locations of San Francisco and Death Valley, when all could have easily been done in the studio or in another desert. Stroheim thought for his actor's to show that they were about to pass out from 120 degree temperatures in the desert, that they needed to be actually be about to pass out from 120 degree temperatures. I lament over the fact I will probably never see a more complete version than what currently exists. I want to see the version that Stroheim originally planned, but what we do have is not necessarily a skeleton as Stroheim referred to it. It has a great amount of flesh on it, but not as much as the Director wanted. Even if only one frame of film existed it still would show an amazing achievement in the history of cinema.
On the Fire (1919)
Poor remake of "Waiter's Ball"
I like Harold Lloyd, but Fatty Arbuckle did this movie first and better.
Though, technically, the plots are different. Many of the scenes in "On the Fire" seem to be direct copies from Arbuckle's earlier "Waiter's Ball." Such similarities as trying to kill a fish with a gun hopping around out of water, the tossing of the food to the waiters, and several other scenes seem to be carbons of Arbuckle's film.
Harold Lloyd had worked with Arbuckle at Keystone, and I doubt that he personally would have copied "Waiter's Ball," but someone in charge must have.
There are still a couple of funny parts, but watch "Waiter's Ball" for the superior effort and original idea.
The Pawnshop (1916)
One of Chaplin's Best
This is definitely one of Chaplin's top 5 or 6 shorts. The part with Albert Austin and the clock is just so hilarious, and I really like the end of that bit where the drunk gets pushed down, just because it makes no sense.
I think this is the exact point in Chaplin's oeuvre in which he matured to the point in which he could make masterpieces. Don't get me wrong I like many of his earlier shorts, but everything he did from this point on could be argued as a masterpiece of comic cinema.
It is true that there isn't a great amount of pathos in this one, but I like the fact that there a just so many ridiculous situations that come one after the other. A+ grade.
The Last Waltz (1978)
Master Filmmaker and a great band
I love The Band and I think they are so underrated in the history of rock. I think this is a great movie by one of the truly great directors. Of course I am not saying anything new, but I do agree with this statement.
This is the 2nd best rock document behind Woodstock, but not too far behind. Some people give the interview segments a hard time, but I like them. I like the fact that except for one case (Chest Fever) the interviews don't interrupt the songs. I had listened to The Band for years and really didn't really know anything about them personally until this movie. Some people are critical of the non live performances, but the segment with the Staple Singers is my favorite part. I love that version of "The Weight."
I do think this would have been slightly better had fewer people working in it and on it not been stoned most of the time (and it is obvious.) The Band seems a bit too goofy and aloof in the interviews, but it is a testament of the times, and of rock excesses. This has been well documented that Scorsese was really into coke during this time, it would be interesting to see what different choices for the film he would have made without use of chemicals.
I recommend this for anyone that loves great music by the great artists in the history of rock.