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The Crowd (1928)
The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928) I couldn't help but compare the marriage storyline in The Crowd to the one in Murnau's Sunrise, which I also recently watched. There is an impressive realistic approach taken to both. John and Mary in The Crowd run the full gamut from flirtation to tenderness to irritation to alienation, and back again. The first half hour is mostly lighthearted, but later takes some serious turns that are all the more affecting for having been preceded by the comedic touches of some of the early scenes. John shows a lot of arrogance without the ambition to back it up, which of course comes around to bite him eventually. I was not prepared for a certain tragic event, and it stunned me a little. Vidor does a great job depicting the anonymity that can often be found in the workplace, especially when you see rows upon rows of men in suits working at identical desks. Some have said that The Crowd has a downbeat ending, but I would have to disagree: to me it is just about the most positive ending that could follow from the events of the film. If you enjoy silent movies, you must see this wonderful comedy-drama from the days just before the talkie took over for good. 9/10
The Naked Spur (1953)
The Naked Spur
The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann, 1953) The stellar achievement of The Naked Spur is that it has only five speaking roles in it, which is not an easy thing to accomplish for a 90-minute film. Each of these roles is a solid, well-realized character, strong performances by all the actors. Each character has his/her own goals and ambitions, and is acting according to a separate agenda; all of them, for various reasons, are forced to travel together. This is some of the best acting I've ever seen from James Stewart, rivaling his incredible performance in Vertigo. Mann does some truly great directing work, making many of the scenes into edge-of-your-seat suspense (most notably the river sequence toward the end). Two days after watching it, I'm realizing the film was even better than I acknowledged upon that viewing. A gripping Western. 9/10
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012) An absorbing film with top-notch performances from the main actors, Silver Linings Playbook has much to recommend it. Its structure is a bit predictable, but Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence just about make up for that. It's good to see DeNiro in a serious role that doesn't send up previous roles he's played. Without having read the book, I'm at a loss to examine if the movie is faithful to it or not, but that's not always necessary in assessing an adaptation. I was highly impressed with this film in the early scenes, but as it went on I felt like I sort of knew where it was going, and for the most part I was right.
One plot development that was pleasantly unexpected was how Pat Sr.'s OCD began to tie in with the romantic plot between Pat Jr. and Tiffany; I thought that was very well executed. At one point I wasn't sure which of the Pats I wanted to jump into the screen and hit. That is a testament to the fine acting displayed by both Cooper and DeNiro, that they were completely behind the choices made by their characters and did not downplay them or do a halfassed job with them. Storywise it also showed the similarities between the two characters: Pat Jr. may not have suffered from OCD as such, but he definitely had his obsessions to grapple with. Jacki Weaver should also be singled out for praise, playing her own character as having to deal with the issues of both husband and son, and doing so with warmth, grace, and humor. According to IMDb, Jennifer Lawrence was the most excited to meet Weaver out of all the rest of the cast, due to Weaver's role in Animal Kingdom.
Probably not the best film of 2012 (I still have yet to see a few of the big names, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty among them) but a very good film for all of that. 8/10
Nema-ye Nazdik (1990)
Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990) More people should see Kiarostami's work. This is a fascinating example of it, the second of his I've seen but I have more on my Netflix queue.
Close-Up is considerably more complex than it at first appears. Kiarostami makes a point of emphasizing the mundane. Those early scenes of small talk and casual conversation help to create a certain atmosphere that makes it all seem so real. Even later sequences which are re-enactments of earlier events do not appear to be artificial at all: I had to keep reminding myself that Kiarostami did not film the original meetings of Hossain Sabzian and the various family members. The irony of this is that Sabzian, while pretending to be the famed director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, claimed that he was going to put the Ahankahs in a movie... and as a result of this case, they did in fact wind up in a movie!
The film shows a great deal of compassion toward Sabzian, and to everyone else involved for that matter. It is incredible to think that after the trial was over, they all agreed to participate in the re-enactments of earlier events. I don't like to give a film a 10/10 until I've seen it at least a second time, so I won't here... but on a rewatch it could well reach that highest rating. 9/10
Freckles Comes Home (1942)
Freckles Comes Home
Freckles Comes Home (Jean Yarbrough, 1942) So I have about three of those multi-disc DVD box sets of dozens of public domain films (one each for comedy, horror, and sci-fi). Every so often I like to dip into them to see if I can find some hidden gems.
Yeah, that really didn't happen this time.
This is one of those films set in a small town where a crime occurs and nobody believes the main character for most of the runtime, even though he's the only one who's talking any kind of sense at all. He also has a would-be girlfriend who misinterprets the fact that he has a question to ask her and thinks he's going to propose, then when he doesn't propose she blows up and declares she doesn't want to see him ever again. He also has a sidekick, and apparently they were big-time troublemakers in the town when they were kids, but nothing about the actual performances suggests they could have been (or that they could have had distinct personalities, for that matter).
There are a few mild (very mild) laughs here and there, but nothing to write home about, as the saying goes. If you have an hour to kill, maybe take a look. At least it helps me appreciate comedy films that are actually good. 4/10
The Terminator (1984)
The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) It's easy to see how The Terminator put James Cameron on the map. Whether or not the story is entirely original (and of course, like maybe all sci-fi concepts, it's been done again and again, in the Doctor Who story Day of the Daleks just to name one example), the way Cameron put it all together is impressive. The storyline generates lots of genuine suspense, even when you know exactly what's going to happen, even when you know how it will happen. Linda Hamilton makes a great protagonist, her character arc developing quite believably given her performance. The special effects and the dialogue are sometimes a bit cheesy... but it was the Eighties, what can you do?
The chase/fight scenes are not overdone (unlike certain newer movies like Man of Steel and Pacific Rim). The sequence of the police psychologist interviewing Reese provides some welcome comic relief, as do a couple of other sequences here and there. Arnold Schwarzenegger's questionable acting abilities are actually put to good advantage: he plays a believable robot.
Overall I am pleased with The Terminator, which deserves its positive reputation as a force of pop culture. Solid piece of science fiction too.
Sarah Connor was just damn lucky she was listed as the last Sarah Connor in the phone book! 9/10
The Traveler (Abbas Kiarostami, 1974) Filmspotting had a positive review of the Kiarostami film Close-Up, so I thought I'd give it a go as my knowledge of Iranian films is very slight. When I got it via Netflix, I discovered there was a separate feature on the DVD (I love when that happens!) so on a whim I tried the extra out first.
The Traveler is good enough to have warranted its own DVD release, although I'm glad it was included on Close-Up. Kiarostami later referred to it as his first picture, and it's about as good a one as I've seen (short of something like Citizen Kane maybe). The main character is a young boy who will do whatever it takes (including steal and scam) to be able to afford to go to a soccer match in Tehran. I couldn't help but laugh at some of the stunts he pulled, even knowing that if he was my kid I'd have been appalled.
The director manages in The Traveler to make the boy a sympathetic character even after you see what he does: for all his questionable behavior (and who at that age doesn't exhibit questionable behavior at some point?) I relate to his loneliness and sadness, and even some of his obsessiveness in pursuing what he wants. The film reminds me of The 400 Blows (as I'm sure it's supposed to) but in some ways it is actually more successful than that Truffaut film in balancing humor with pathos. The final five minutes in particular are terrific.
If this is considered a minor work by Kiarostami, then he could well be added to my list of favorite directors soon. 8/10
This Is the End (2013)
This Is the End
This Is The End (Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg, 2013) One of the craziest films I've seen in a while. Intriguing gimmick, using renowned young actors playing exaggerated versions of themselves, much like in Curb Your Enthusiasm or Extras. We never get an explanation as to why some people are sucked into Hell (seriously, what did Rihanna do that was so bad?) and why some were not. I'm not all that familiar with Danny McBride, but I have followed some of the work of the other main actors over the years.
This Is The End (for its first two-thirds, at least) is funnier than I expected. I put off seeing it at first because I couldn't imagine Rogen and Goldberg making a comedy about the Apocalypse starring a bunch of comic actors playing themselves, but they (mostly) pulled it off. The film does sort of lose its way during the last half hour, it must be said. All in all though, an enjoyable outing for its first hour but I didn't find the final scene, set in a certain location, to be all that imaginatively done. 6/10
Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
Here's a movie I last saw about 15 years ago, yet my memories of it are vivid and intense. Watching it again this weekend brought all that back. Morgan Freeman is great as the retiring detective who contrasts Brad Pitt's character excellently. Se7en starts off as this sort of typical police procedural that would not be out of place in a Law and Order episode, but it sure as hell doesn't stay that way. Gwyneth Paltrow's character is given little depth, which may be a flaw but I haven't decided yet. The various fates of the victims are psychologically terrifying. To say much more would spoil the final scenes. Generally I can take or leave the whole crime/horror genre--it just isn't always my cup of tea--but this film is deeper and more raw than most. 8/10
Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927) The only other time I've ever seen Sunrise, it was on a VHS rental that seemed to be a copy of a copy: the picture left much to be desired, and the tracking failed to fix it properly. Even then I knew I was in the presence of something great. Thankfully the better-quality DVD is on Netflix so I could even better appreciate its brilliance, its beauty. It would be a mistake to underestimate the film's slow pacing and occasional forays into melodrama: those are not its flaws, but its accomplishments. The DVD commentary pointed out many facets of individual scenes that I would not have noticed, camera placement and so on. This may be the closest to a perfect silent film that was ever created.
There are several shots that I can safely say I love.
1. The moon in the sky as the Farmer walks along the countryside to his rendezvous with the Woman from the City.
2. The City Woman's walk from her room down to the lake.
3. The long shot of the Wife sitting in the boat while her husband is chasing the dog.
4. The City Woman's crazy little dance by the water, just after the dreamlike shots of city life superimposed overhead.
5. The Maid's joy toward the end of the film.
6. The very last couple of shots.
This film is sheer poetry, a must-see for lovers of cinema. A work of art if any motion picture ever was. 10/10