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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are many reasons to dislike this movie. It shows a teenager being psychologically and physically abused. It shows art being portrayed as something painful. It shows someone abusing his authority. It shows the collapse of a romantic relationship, causing deeply hurt feelings. The story in general comes off as being contrived. Yet, this movie is great. It is highly entertaining, the reason being its theme: what is an artist supposed to do to satisfy his quest for perfection? In this case, the metaphor for perfection is Buddy Rich, who was a famous American jazz drummer. In this movie, Rich's work is used as a standard for artistic perfection, in this case, artistic expression through the playing of percussion instruments. The structure of the plot is simple: a music teacher, Fletcher, wants to bring out the brilliance of his student, Andrew. He believes that the best way to accomplish this through humiliation which will test the level of the student's commitment to achieving greatness and perfection. The student becomes the tool through which the teacher can vicariously achieve perfection. For this story is about the teacher. He is the principal character, the one around whom the action takes place. The teacher is a metaphor for all the artists in the world who are striving for something that they themselves cannot achieve, and so seek it out in others. To bring it out is the challenge, and that generates conflict, as the teacher must first break down the student's resistance, which is a painful and risky process. Painful because it involves elements of abuse; risky because he may lose the student. The acting is superb. J. K. Simmons's gives a terrifically powerful performance as the teacher, Fletcher, and Miles Teller gives a tremendous performance as the student, Andrew. The story moves at a brisk pace and achieves moments of extreme intensity that alone make the movie worth watching. True, the movie includes brief but graphic scenes of physical violence perpetrated against a teenager, but this takes place within the context of an extremely emotional and volatile relationship which drives the story, and without which the story may lose some of it strength.
Even in the middle of war, politics can gum up the works. Military people are told to fight a war, and then are second-guessed by the very same people who told them to fight. That is not fair. This movies dramatizes how politics directly influences command decisions. The movie portrays the top brass as being sycophants who are terrified of disappointing those who fund their projects and career, and what happens if one of the generals refuse to kowtow. This has nothing to do with legitimate civilian oversight of military operations. Rather, it is about how the military is rendered subordinate to politicians who are more interested in making political points at the expense of the military than actually winning the war. Edward Arnold gives a command performance as a US senator who uses his position to try to bully the military to the point that it poses a direct threat to military operations already decided upon at the highest levels. Clark Gable gives one his stronger performances as the general who maintains his integrity and belief in the mission. To commission soldiers to fight a war and then rag them for doing exactly what they have been ordered to do is the height of hypocrisy. Yet, sadly, it is all too true.
This movie is hilarious. It is also an excellent musical. Thus, the movie gives you laughs and song; can't go wrong with that combination. There is chemistry between Clark Gable and Marion Davies, who play the title characters. Gable's comedic ability is once again evident. He was a great comic actor. As for Marion Davies, no could have done her role better. The story is amusing; Roscoe Karns again shows that when he came to comic roles, he was among the best. The story itself is amusing and endearing. Every character is likable. The movie depicts working class people in a positive, upbeat way. The entire supporting cast is excellent, especially Allen Jenkins. As entertainment, this movie delivers. The movie gives you laughs, music, a wonderful plot, and characters to whom the audience can relate. If that isn't enough, then maybe watching movies isn't for you.
Let me tell you why this movie is good: It shows that Joan Crawford and Clark Gable were great comic actors. There is no question that if I Love Lucy had been re-casted with Crawford and Gable as Lucy and Ricky, the results would have been hilarious. Also, Franchot Tone gives one the more hilarious performances as Gable's news reporter chum and rival. Tone would have played an extremely amusing Fred Mertz. The story is so upbeat and so amusing that it is virtually impossible to find anything about it to dislike. The story has snappy dialog, farcical plot, engaging characters and excellent cinematography. Any movie that features Crawford, Gable and Tone running around France and getting into all kinds of silly trouble is a movie that will entertain.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a somber movie about a tragic story. A man, Chris Kyle, dies, tragically, after repeatedly risking his life for his country. While he is alive he is pressured by his wife who is becoming increasingly hysterical to stop going to war, which just drives him away. His job was to methodically kill the enemy, which included women and children who were combatants. That was the nature of the enemy he was fighting. At no time does Kyle derive any joy from doing his job. But he believes in what he is doing and has the full support of his commanders who acknowledge his bravery. Of course, the question is: who exactly are the Americans fighting? And should they even be there? Interestingly, in the movie, Kyle is not the only sniper. The insurgents have a sniper too and he is looking for Kyle. It's too bad that the movie does not tell the audience more about the other sniper. It seemed that Kyle's biggest problem was not the nature of his duties, but the conflict he had with his wife over her unwillingness to support him in his mission. Bradley Cooper carries this movie; his performance as Chris Kyle is outstanding. He brings a combination of strength and pathos to the character. If any character in the story has emotional problems, it is his wife, played with great skill by Sienna Miller, whose behavior becomes increasingly hysterical. Being a mother of two children, her fears are understandable. She does not want to lose her husband and the father of her children. At some points in the story she is literally screaming at him and Kyle does not know what to do. That the war itself may be unjust or unnecessary takes a back stage. Hence, in the movie Kyle is dealing with two wars: one in Iraq and the other at home. How many wars is a soldier supposed to fight?
The story is about two men: an American prisoner of war, Louis Zamperini, and a Japanese prison guard, Mutihiro Watanabe, who torments him. The movie devotes a lot of time telling the audience about Zamperini but provides almost nothing about Watanabe, thus transforming the latter into a stereotype. Watanabe's violence comes off as gratuitous; why he targets Zamperini in particular is never fully explained, and in order for the story to make sense, an explanation is required. Yet on one point the movie is utterly clear: the brutality of the Japanese in their treatment of the prisoners of war. The sheer mindlessness of the brutality is depicted with candor and frankness. There is no question that in this movie the Japanese are brutal as a matter of policy. It was brutality motivated by sheer hatred. Watanabe hates his prisoners; he hates Zamperini. His hatred is so intense that he cannot put it into words. He can only act on it. That any Americans at all survived incarceration under these circumstances is a miracle. True, Japan and the United States were engaged in a vicious war but still, there was no valid excuse to them to forgo even the pretensions of legality in the treatment of the prisoners. For the Japanese, the prisoners were not only the enemy but were still combatants who just happned to be prisoners. The movie is crammed with violence; everything in this story is violent. Watanabe vents his rage on Zamperini. After he is "rescued" by the Japanese, Zamperini becomes a punching bag for the disgruntled Watanabe. What is disturbing is that such scenes are not merely gratuitous depictions of violence meant to intensify the story but are based on historical incidents that actually occurred. Zamperini did not deserve to be mistreated. Why the Japanese chose to take the low road of brutality is never fully answered.
This movie is wonderful. It features Joan Crawford singing and dancing, and she could sing and dance well. That alone makes this movie special. Clark Gable also is cast as a stage director who's all business, his gruffness of course a cover for a guy who really cares about people. The movie has a definite anti-rich people slant, with Franchot Tone playing a playboy who uses money to act out his selfish whims, which only hurt others. Theatrical people are portrayed in a most positive way - as hardworking, dedicated, and talented. The musical numbers are snappy and entertaining, especially the finale. The movie features Fred Astaire in his first major role and Moe, Larry and Curly - The Three Stooges whose characters figure directly in the story. But what makes this movie succeed is the presence of Joan Crawford. She dominates the movie and demonstrates why she is one of the premier actresses in the history of cinema.
For a film that was made eighty years ago, it stands up well to the test of time, meaning that the movie not a complete antique. It's a road movie and it deals with themes that will resonate with a contemporary audience. Many of the scenes are hilarious, especially those involving Mr. Shapely, played by Roscoe Karns. The movie has snappy dialog, a fast-paced story, excellent development of the principal characters, and a good upbeat ending. Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable give outstanding performances which reveal their skills as comic actors. The hitchhiking scene cannot fail to provoke laughter. The movie presents a story format that sets the standard for a genre of road movies. The movie also highlights the emergence of an America dominated by the automobile and tied together by roads and highways. Figuring in the story are gas station attendants, motel owners, bus drivers and bus stations, all part of the newly emerging automobile age. A movie of this kind could not have set in a pre-auto culture. This accounts for the movie's contemporary feel. Clark Gable so dominates this movie that it is virtually impossible to imagine anyone else playing Peter Warne. Yet, what makes the movie succeed is its straightforward storytelling about people who want to be break free from the social conventions that are denying them happiness. This is a wonderful and beautiful movie.
The story is good: an aging politician wants to win re-election but only by his rules, which are outdated. The acting is good: Spencer Tracy gives a strong performance as the aging politician; the other cast members also give strong performances. The problem with this movie is that the entire movie looks like it's being performed on a stage, which makes the story and characters seem even more contrived. The movie relies on portraying characters as caricatures than in providing character development. Hence, the bad guys, i.e., the bankers, are portrayed as surly and obnoxious, while the good guys, i.e, Skeffington's friends, are portrayed as the salt of the earth. The movie's message is clear: because of television, politicians are losing touch with the public and playing to the camera is now more important than maintaining contact with the people. Winning an election today means having to be glib. As a drama, the movie tries to evoke a sense of nostalgia for a time when politicians interacted directly with the people and when what counted the most for political success was not celebrity status but who he was as a person.
What is this movie about? A simple question yet one that defies an answer, for to answer this question means that this movie has a plot, something that is not the case. In an avant-garde way, this movie is refreshing. Instead of trying to actually tell a story, the production staff dispenses with a plot and relies on the skill of the cast to entertain the audience, and to an extent, this unique approach works. Jaoquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon and Josh Brolin are entertaining. Of the three, Brolin's performance is the most comical. He plays a caricature of a hard-boiled city homicide/robbery detective. The movie's main problem is that these quality performances are not matched by an equally coherent story. Just because the main character is a pot smoking substance abuser doesn't mean that it should be presumed that the audience is in the same cloudy state of mind. Phoenix demonstrates a talent for slapstick and deadpan comic acting. Marijuana use figures heavily in the story (that is, what is supposed to pass as a story). If this is supposed to send some kind of social message to the audience, i.e., that marijuana use is cool, then this movie will be a favorite and Phoenix your new Hollywood icon. But if all the pot smoking, inane dialog, contrived histrionics, and general silliness becomes too much, remember: the actors are funny, so have yourself a laugh.
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