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Film Noir, Westerns, Giallo, Musicals, 40's-50's Grade-B Horror, Screwball comedies, jazz movies
Robert Altman, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Majid Majidi, Federico Fellini, Satyajit Ray, Sergio Leone, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kramer, Clint Eastwood, Frank Capra, Joel Coen, Howard Hawks, John Ford, Peter Bogdanovich, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Charles Chaplin
Favourite Films by genre:
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Out of the Past (1947)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Battaglia di Algeri, La (1966)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Ballada o soldate (1959)
Untergang, Der (2004)
Oberst Redl (1985)
The Exorcist (1973)
Don't Look Now (1973)
Cat People (1942)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The Long Good-bye (1973)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Sin City (2005)
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
My Fair Lady (1964)
Guys and Dolls (1955)
12 Angry Men (1957)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
3:10 to Yuma (1957)
The Far Country (1954)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The Wild Bunch (1969)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
WESTERN - JOHN WAYNE
Red River (1948)
Rio Bravo (1959)
Buono, il brutto, il cattivo, Il (1966)
Per qualche dollaro in pi� (1965)
Strada, La (1954)
Nights of Cabiria (195?)
Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
The Great Dictator (1940)
City Lights (1931)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The Shining (1980)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Rear Window (1954)
The 39 Steps (1935)
Sjunde inseglet, Det (1957)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
The Remains of the Day (1993)
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
Fa yeung nin wa (2000)
The African Queen (1951)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Babettes g�stebud (1987)
Ladri di biciclette (1948)
Schindler's List (1993)
Stanza del figlio, La (2001)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Salaire de la peur, Le (1953)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Marathon Man (1976)
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Mississippi Burning (1988)
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
The Untouchables (1987)
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
The Godfather (1972)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Postino, Il (1994)
The Odd Couple (1968)
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Roman Holiday (1953)
Shutter Island (2010)
Scorcese's on a roll here
Scorcese has often been called America's greatest living director. Certainly with classics like Mean Streets, Taxidriver and Raging Bull to his credit decades ago, and others like Goodfellas and Gangs of New York in the intervening year, there is much weight in holding him in such high esteem, along with the expectations that come with it. My first impression with each new film since Goodfellas has been that its lesser Scorcese. He appears to have fallen from the lofty standards he set early in his career. The themes of the film do not have the gravitas one expects of a Scorcese film etc. On first viewing, I felt that way about both Gangs of New York and The Departed. Second and third viewings changed my opinion and I now know both films to be classics and the Scorcese magic is self evident.
Shutter Island, which is a big move away from the broad range that Scorcese normally works within, is a horror-thriller film - well, more thriller than horror and thus more mainstream than his usual fare. The only other mainstream Scorcese film that comes to mind is Cape Fear. While I was never impressed with Cape Fear, the original B&W noir classic being far superior, I readily admit to loving Shutter Island from the first frame.
People forget that Scorcese is the original film nerd and his understanding of cinema and the great masters is unparalleled. In this visually enchanting masterpiece, I saw clear shades of King Kong, the Val Lewton films of the 40s e.g. Isle of the Dead, Hitchcock's Vertigo and North by Northwest and of course the expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. However, it was all of a piece with a clear visual style that gelled and worked. There are remarkable set-pieces littered throughout the film - too many to mention. The performances are uniformly great. While, De Caprio, Ben Kingsley and Emily Watson are all acclaimed, Mark Ruffalo is less well known and shines in this, his best role since Zodiac.
I won't go into the plot details but given that this is a thriller, suffice to say that there is at least one major plot twist. I've seen several reviewers commenting on and emphasizing the big twist. Many saw it coming and disliked the film, others couldn't see the twist coming and loved the film as a result. I think that basing your opinion on the plot twist misses the point. With the large number of thrillers that Hollywood churns out each year, I don't think is a plot twist out there that hasn't been covered threadbare by multiple films. What is important to me is the visual sense and style, which is present in Shutter Island in bucket-loads!
Attention to detail
There's a point in the second half of A Man Escaped when a new prisoner (Jost) joins the central figure (Fontaine) in his thus far solitary prison cell. The new prisoner expresses amazement at the very idea of someone thinking they can escape from this prison - look at the walls, the guards, the steel bars. He is reasonable in his thinking as a newcomer to the scene, but we, the audience already know that yes it is possible to escape and how this feat is to be engineered.
The entire film leading up to that point is a clinically minute study of how one plans an escape. Short on words, although there is a regular voice-over, this is a visually arresting form of storytelling. Contrary to some IMDb comments that the film might be perceived as slow-moving or boring, I actually think its riveting. My 8 year old son was sitting in the TV lounge when I started the film. He was drawn into the film within minutes (despite the subtitles) and sat through the entire film and really enjoyed it. With the attention span of youngsters and the additional challenge of it being in a foreign language and B&W to boot, it requires masterly storytelling to engage such a young audience.
There is great attention to detail and authenticity. The real life prisoner (Andre Devigy) was a consultant on the film, it was filmed in the actual prison where the prisoner escaped from and even the original rope and hooks used for the escape were used for the film! This is almost a documentary but with non-professional actors recreating in a compressed time frame actual events. For me, Bresson's Pickpocket's train sequence is among the finest in cinema history. Its obvious throughout A Man Escaped that the same genius who made Pickpocket crafted this masterpiece.
The Naked City (1948)
Dated but groundbreaking
I'm a big fan of early film noir - stylized films like Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, Out of the Past etc. with their femme fatales and flawed heroes. With the end of WWII came the return of many film-makers like Producer-Narrator Mark Hellinger who had experience in shooting documentaries with all their realism during the war. Starting with The Naked City, noir saw the impact of combat photography in location shootings and gritty realism.
The Naked City, as narrated at the outset by the producer, was shot on location in New York in the apparently scorching summer of 1947. There are lots of scenes shot with hidden cameras, passersby unaware that a film was being shot. That would've created a significant impact at a time when everything was shot on set - and heavily stylized. In the present age, when nearly all outdoor shooting is 'on location', the impact of Naked City diminishes significantly. The plot plods along, the acting is generally wooden, although Barry Fitzgerald gives an interesting if over-acted performance. A lot of the authentic police procedural is too tame and dated compared to what one normally see on TV today.
Apart from the groundbreaking decision to shoot on location, the only other selling point of the film is the chase in the last 15 minutes of the movie. That was the bulk of the films outdoor shooting and its great. Its suspenseful, well shot and the narration works great. It reminded me of the great M by Fritz Lang. For serious noir fans, The Naked City has to be seen once, but its not a film to be revisited repeatedly like some of the earlier classics of the genre.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
A welcome return to form after 15 years
I still remember the rush I got when seeing Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction for the first time. I ended up seeing both multiple times and took something new away from each viewing. The media hype around Tarantino, which I believed at the time, was that he could do no wrong. It really seemed in '94 that he was not only the greatest director in the world, but would change cinema forever. Unfortunately his produce since Pulp Fiction was neither prolific nor impressive. The primary weakness with Tarantino's three works post Pulp Fiction and pre Inglourious Basterds was his constantly parroting or paying tribute to other works he had admired instead of going out and doing his own thing, creating something original. An excess of verbosity slowed the pace as well. Viewing the trailer and reading initial reviews of Inglourious Basterds led me to believe it suffered the same shortcomings. To be honest, the trailer for Inglourious does not sell the film I saw. And Tarantino's frequent arrogance and more recent track record have opened him up to a lot of criticism - much of it unjustified in the case of this film.
Anyone who has read any review of Inglourious would know that the villain is a sinister Col. Hans Landa and that the opening sequence is one for the ages. He is a unique movie villain like Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men or Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. He doesn't speak, he interrogates and interviews in a eerily calm manner. It requires nerves of steel to maintain your composure with him around! His audacity in the last 20 minutes is breathtaking. The opening sequence was worthy of Sergio Leone, whose Once Upon a Time in the West and Lee Van Cleef in The Good The Bad and The Ugly no doubt influenced Tarantino's handling of the entire sequence.
I actually liked the criticized bar sequence even more than the opening. Long yes, but it slowly builds up to a brilliantly directed climax. The twists and turns, the playful banter which turns into something deadly are among the memorable sequences of cinema history. Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus has given a performance that is almost on par with Christopher Waltz's Col. Landa. If his performance is Oscar worthy (not that that should be the yardstick!), his interview of her and her reaction when he exits is also equally worthy. I should mention here that the name star of the film, Brad Pitt, is really only one part of a great ensemble cast. His performance is superb and not the caricature that the trailer implies. A sequence where his hick officer is forced to act 'Spanish' is just brilliant comedy. He has the accent of a southerner down pat. I only wish he'd been given more time. I hope the director's cut adds something to his role.
In closing, I'll add that Tarantino's knowledge of cinema was never in doubt. His camera-work and understanding of the mechanics of film-making were always good, but he has exceeded himself in this film. There is something classical about the photography (beautiful long takes) and cinematography, which almost no director can emulate. As a former fan and later critic of Tarantino, I'm blown away by Inglourious and despite his cheek, I do think he may just have made his masterpiece!
Funny but mean-spirited unlike Borat
I was familiar Baron Sacha Cohen's Ali G character years before 2006's Borat. But, I became a serious fan of Cohen only after Borat. Sure the film has some slow moments, irrelevant subplots and some potty humor that was uncalled for. But there were many moments of such sheer comedic brilliance that I was blown up. I was very keen to see Bruno knowing it was Cohen's next project and also set in America. The ad for the film also made it look great.
Having just seen it, I confess to being disappointed. Sure my expectations were high, but most of the jokes in Bruno just did not work. There was a mean-spiritedness to the whole exercise. Where in Borat, he baited the humor coach, car salesman or feminists for laughs, here he actually offends. What he did with Ron Paul or the TV pilot previewers was just simply cheap behavior. Any normal, civilized person would behave the way they did - there is nothing homophobic about their reaction. The last moments were actually quite dangerous and he should've had better sense.
The admirable thing about Bruno is that Cohen retains his courage and audacity, which means there is hope for the future. And yes, it is good for one viewing because the handful of laughs in the movie are genuinely inventive comedy. I remain a fan of Cohen but not of Bruno the movie.
America, America (1963)
Epic story of the immigrant experience
Only in the last 5 minutes of America, America is there any action actually filmed in America. The prelude to that - a good 2 hrs 40 minutes - is about one young man's struggle against the odds to reach America: the land of opportunity. This, director Elia Kazan's most personal project and favorite film, is partly biographical based as it is on the experiences of his eldest uncle Stavros.
Elia Kazan's name generates mixed feelings. According to some e.g. Stanley Kubrick, he was the greatest American director. Most others are unable to get past his "naming names" to the HUAC in the 50's. Be that as it may, his works need to be judged on their professional merit, and certainly no other film captures the immigrant experience in the early part of the 20th century like America, America.
The only negative to the film is the lengthy running time and the slow pace for the first hour. Some have criticized the acting of the central character who occupies center stage for virtually the entire film. He's certainly no Brando, Clift, Dean or DeNiro. However, his accent and looks are much more Greek and that adds to the documentary like feel of the film.
Instead of filming in Hollywood studio sets, Kazan and DP Haskell Wexler (who won a well-deserved Oscar) opted for locations in Turkey and Greece - the action being set in Central Anatolia and Constantinople. This gives the film a rougher, more realistic look absent from other Kazan films of the late 50s-60s. The tragedies and injustices meted out to minorities under Ottoman rule and the harshness of life are what really stays with you after the film is over. There are several emotional moments such as when Stavros gets engaged and his fiancée pleads to him, or when he finally lands in America and sends a letter home.
À bout de souffle (1960)
My high expectations were met!
Wow! I saw Godard's Bande A Parte and thought it was over-rated. But, after seeing A bout de soufflé, I'd like to revisit Bande a Parte. This is a truly stylish film and I'm beginning to appreciate Godard's abilities. A lot of what makes it ground-breaking will understandably be dated by modern standards. I mean the Tarantinoesque narrative structure and the visuals - especially the jump cuts which Ridley Scott uses ad nauseum are no longer unique. However, here they look and feel fresh.
What really makes A bout de Soufflé relevant even today is the wonderful no-rules narrative structure. A good example: smack in the middle of the film, a good 20 minutes are spend in a bedroom with Belmondo trying to get Seberg to make love and she doesn't want to. Not because she's a prude. In fact, we never really get to know the reason for her reluctance. His method of trying to entice her is by touching her bottom and her method of rejection is a swift slap on his left cheek!
There are dozens of visually arresting moments in this film and at a brisk 90 minutes, its never boring. And the musical score is great too.
Definitely a part of the series
You can't stop people from whining! If there was never another Indy film after Last Crusade, they would've regretted never being able to see an older Indy in a farewell tribute to the series. When that tribute comes, they say its not good enough! First off, it is good enough. This is no Phantom Menace or Godfather 3 where you wait for decades and get something that is far below the standard of the original.
Indy 4 is visually and thematically a part and parcel of this excellent series. Roger Ebert said something to the effect that its the same sausage but the first bite is always the tastiest. Indy 4 has corny one-liners, cheesy action and historic babble, but then so did its three predecessors. The film is entertaining from the word go and very intelligently done. It updates the setting from the late 30's to the 50's and the visual transition is brilliantly handled from the opening scene. It also pays homage to many of the classic Indy moments - the one I liked most was the motorbike scene where Ford acted like Connery and Shia like Ford.
The action scene are wildly improbable and fun to watch. I remember watching the first three films as a kid and young teenage and it was edge of the seat stuff. While watching Indy 4 in the cinema last night, I remember thinking the action was well handled but it wasn't intellectually stimulating (like Tarkovsky or Kubrick)! Then I looked at my five and a half year old son sitting in the seat next to me and he was on the edge of his seat and having a whale of a time! Honestly, the first three movies came out at a different time and age. The only thing Indy 4 can't deliver is my youth (or Connery unfortunately). It really can't be faulted on any other count. By the way, Shia LeBoeuf (who I've never seen before) is quite good. He reminded me of James Dean from East of Eden and Brando from The Wild One.
The Man from Laramie (1955)
Weak link in Stewart Mann teaming
Compared to the brilliant The Far Country and the very good Winchester 73 and Naked Spur, The Man from Laramie is probably the weakest of the Stewart-Mann pairings of the 50's.
The seven films director Anthony Mann made in the 1950's starring James Stewart (most of them westerns) created one of the most famous director-star teams in cinema history. As an actor, Stewart came across better in these films than with Hitchcock, possibly because he had a lot of creative independence as the star of the Mann films.
Mann's major shortcoming was that while he was a great craftsman, he couldn't get decent performances from ordinary actors. In Laramie, he cast Stewart, Arthur Kennedy and Donald Crisp and all three (especially Kennedy) give decent performances. But the leading lady playing Kate is just unbelievably wooden and there's a contrived subplot involving her and Stewart/Kennedy which is quite unconvincing. For me, that detracted greatly from the film. I think Mann gave a lot of independence to his actors and where they were good - like Stewart - they shone. Where they were bad, he wasn't able to do much to improve their performance. Not what you'd call an actors director! Thats probably why Kirk Douglas was so eager to replace Kubrick with him for his pet project Spartacus.
The cinematography while not in the league of Far Country is still very good as one would expect from a master craftsman like Mann. This is the last picture Mann and Stewart worked on before having a falling out. In fact, the next film planned for Mann and Stewart - Man of the West - eventually starred Gary Cooper. I feel it would have been their best collaboration, if Stewart were the star. Gary Cooper never really settled into the role.
No repeat of the brilliance of Solyaris
I was stunned by Tarkovsky's other famous sci-fi philosophical meditation Solyaris. Comparisons between Solyaris and Stalker are natural because of the genre and auteur.
Tarkovsky proves again that he is a master of the visual and each frame is preplanned with the whole flowing seamlessly from seam to seam with long and languorous takes. Like Solyaris, Stalker is a deep, meditative work and a superficial first viewing is probably not enough to understand the significant themes of the film. I have only just finished seeing Stalker for the first time and it may grow on me. However, my first impression while watching Solyaris was intense interest coupled with a longing to understand more about this marvelous, enigmatic film after it is was over. In the case of Stalker I really had to plod through it at times. It was visually stunning but not beautiful. The characters may have been more autobiographical for Tarkovsky but they did not arouse empathy.
There are may visual similarities between Solyaris and Stalker and if you've seen one, you can automatically detect the same visual style in the other. In Stalker, the scenes in the real world - first 20 and last 10 minutes - were black & white while the zone was filmed in color. The real world was cold, grey and ugly and in many cases e.g. the tunnel, so was the zone. The Stalker did not have the presence or the sadness in his eyes that the lead of Solyaris did which I see as another major shortcoming. I will want to let my viewing of Stalker sink in over the next few days and may change my opinion, so this is just an immediate reaction.