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Duck and Cover (1952)
I did the drill
All through grade school we did the various drills and I remember seeing the film during that time. After all that trained paranoia, it made the Cuban Missle Crisis far scarier than it looks like today in Thirteen Days.
Of course the film appears comical today, but I do remember being cynical about the duck and cover drill back in 4th grade. I distinctly remember telling my desk partner (Pam) that I didn't think the drill would do any good if the bomb actually drops cause we'd all be killed anyway.
It's fun to look back on this film and have a good laugh though. Even more ludicrous are the governmental lies and denials--on the second sequence they state that "thousands of lives at Hiroshima could have been saved if they had known to 'Duck and Cover'"
Brilliant visual trip...definitive Fellini!
It's been many years since I first watched 8 1/2... too many years. I become thoroughly engrossed from the opening dream sequence to the final dance on the beach. No one does black and white imagery as effectively as Fellini, and this film is his most definitive.
8 1/2 is also the most autobiographical film that Fellini has done. Marcello Mastroiani plays a self critical and analytical filmmaker who is trying to develop a new film project. The film often goes inside Mastroiani's mind and we see the brilliant visual artist at work. One of more humorous sequences is one in which the various women in his life all operate as a "harem" to serve his needs and then stage a revolution against the tyrant.
Towards the end we see the filmmaker have doubts about his film and himself, wondering if he has anything to say. One of the women says to him "Why piece together the tatters of your life--the vague memories, the faces--the people you never knew how to love."
Fortunately for us, Fellini did leave us this most personal film, and a number of others afterwards, including Juliet of the Spirits, Satyricon, and Amarcord. We are fortunate that he resolved any self doubts he may have harbored, but we are especially blessed with 8 1/2, which definitely ranks among the best films ever created.
Swamp Thing (1982)
Better than most B movies--Craven demonstrates early talent...
I first saw Swamp Thing on The Movie Channel in its early years when you could see the same movie multiple times each week. I don't recall how many times I actually watched it back in the 1980's, but I remembered that it was better than most low budget films I'd seen.
I just watched it again last night on video, and found that the movie holds up. I was a little surprised to discover that it was directed and written by Wes Craven of the successful Scream movies. Swamp Thing is one of his earlier projects--though it came out 10 years after his first feature, The Last House of the Left.
There were glimpses of Craven's genius demonstrated in Swamp Thing. The dialog has touches of humor and doesn't take itself all that seriously. Adrienne Barbeau shows her toughness when confronted by the evil forces by getting a few punches in and continuing to fight and escape despite the odds.
For a low budget film, Craven has an eye for beauty--the swamp itself is filmed beautifully in many places. With a bigger budget he could have done more. But it's not necessary. With the scale and purpose of this movie Craven accomplishes about as much as you can hope for here. It's worth a look.
Todo sobre mi madre (1999)
Amoldovar's best though still not quite mainstream...
All About My Mother is a GREAT film that I recently checked out at the one theater that brings some foreign fare occasionally to town. I Wouldn't be surprised to see Cecelia Roth get Oscar nomination for lead actress, as she plays a very strong ideal mother in this film.
In Spanish w/ English subtitles, it's a very engaging film that contains a typically most interesting collection of Amoldovar characters-- trans-sexual prostitutes, a grand dame theater matron, an actress who's a junkie, and a fallen nun. It's a very emotional work as well--if you've lost a close friend or relative, you may want to wait a while before seeing this. I definitely rank this in my top ten list of 1999.
All About My Mother is not for the kids. I'm sure it won't be playing in smaller cities either, and don't look for it at the multiplex. It's unfortunate that more Americans don't take to movies with subtitles. Seeing this film will convert a few "non readers" to check out foreign language fare.
A masterpiece, filmed in beautiful black and white!
This is the only Hitchcock movie that won an Academy Award for Best Movie, preceeding Citizen Kane by one year. There is much in Rebecca reminiscent of Kane--from the outstanding opening black and white cinematography of the tracking shot of Manderley to the final shot of the embroidered pillow surrounded by flames.
The Academy snubbed Hitchcock himself, as they never did award the all-time best director the top prize for himself. Hitchcock's influence is demonstrated throughout the unfolding of the film. As in many of his films, your initial assumptions will likely prove wrong.
Laurence Olivier plays a wealthy man haunted by the death of his first wife, while Joan Fontaine plays an "ordinary" young woman who becomes the second Mrs. de Winter. Fontaine's character obviously loves her husband but feels out of place in the vast mansion, especially when the sinister and strange Mrs. Danvers appears.
Rebecca holds up well with age. The characters are memorable and the subtle Hitchcockian twists are riveting. Renting this classic will be much more worthwhile than watching 99% of the more current fare available.
Scream 3 (2000)
Pointless but fun entertainment; cameos worth the price...
I can't say that Scream 3 scared me, as there's nothing really original in this movie that hasn't been covered in the original and the sequel. The plotline is familiar, yet the movie does contain some fun.
Two different cameo appearances gave me a chuckle, so these alone were almost worth the price of the movie. I'm not going to reveal who these cameos are, but if you've been to some one star was made famous in the 70's while another duo is a youth pop culture favorite of the 90's.
The style of the movie is familiar, and why not. Scream 3 is directed by Wes Craven, so it has the same feel and rhythm of the other two Scream movies. Fortunately, the movie has three of the main surviving characters returning, which adds to the fun of the film.
There's also a nice video return of a character who doesn't live past the first sequel. It explains the rules for the final chapters of trilogies--but this movie doesn't follow all these rules...
Does that mean that this is NOT a trilogy? Literally, and symbolicly the door is left open in the final shot.
I suspect that there'll be another Scream in the works as long as the money keeps rolling in. Didn't they do that already in the Friday the 13th movies?
The Straight Story (1999)
Visual poem from Blue Velvet creator
The Straight Story has the look and feel of a foreign film, and I mean this as a compliment. It's a very simple story of an independent old man from the Midwest, who decides that he's going to set out to visit his estranged brother. Richard Farnsworth plays the old man, too blind to drive and too independent to rely on Greyhound, and he should be rewarded with an Oscar nomination.
In one sense it's hard to believe that this G rated film is created by the same director that brought us Blue Velvet, but look again. The film itself has David Lynch's trademark style and sound, and he obviously loves to take on small Midwestern Americana. It has a lyrical quality about it that held my interest throughout, occasionally bring dampness to the eyes with Farnsworth's homespun wisdom and stories.
This will play well on the small screen when it comes to video. I'm definitely planning to add it to my personal collection.
Love it or hate it... no middle ground on this black comedy
The vignettes are often funny with a great deal of pain in this brilliant film. This video will be hard to find, as many stores refuse to put it on their shelves due to the subject matter--one of the characters is a pedophile.
It begins with an encounter in a restaurant where Jon Lovitz condemns his date for wanting to break up with him. It turns out that everyone in this film is hurting in some way... eventually even the wife who "has it all" is put into a painful situation.
The one character I thought was "normal" turns out to be a murderer. This is the blackest comedy I can ever recall seeing.
The film itself is very well made. If you're open minded and enjoy offbeat, dark comedy, check it out. It's a trip!
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Hitchcockian thriller is one of 1999's best!
Alfred Hitchcock often unbalances us by presenting ordinary people in extraordinary situations and by blurring the lines between good and evil.
Anthony Minghella has done much the same here in his film translation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. From the opening credits we are thrust inside Tom Ripley's thoughts with a sense of foreboding as he wishes that it all could be erased, including himself.
Matt Damon nails the Ripley role perfectly in 1999's most complex role. Damon plays Ripley as a likable, introverted young man who is adept at imitating others and playing a variety of roles. When a shipping tycoon thinks that Ripley knows his son from the 1956 Princeton class, he convinces him to travel to Italy to convince his son Dickie to return to New York.
Ripley goes, and falls in love with Italy and the leisurely lifestyle that Dickie (Jude Law) and girlfriend Marge (Gweneth Paltrow) enjoy. He also falls in love with Dickie. Ripley is having the time of his life, but Dickie grows tired of Tom and the plot grows very dark. Ripley makes full use of his chameleon-like talents during this time. After all "I'd rather be a fake somebody than a real nobody."
Minghella has done masterful work here. The scenery evokes the mood of La Dolce Vita in the 1950's, the film composition and editing are very tight and effectively done, and he has drawn outstanding performances from Damon and the supporting cast.
This film is not for everyone. Like Hitchcock, Minghella takes you on a filmic roller coaster ride from lightness and humor to darkness and brooding. Though nothing is explicit, the homoeroticism itself may turn off some movie patrons. Others will feel manipulated, as you are drawn very deeply into Ripley's character, and this is a very uncomfortable place to be--figuratively in the basement of the soul.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a disturbing movie that will linger in your mind long after the final reel has ended. You will likely find that it will take a second viewing to catch the layered meanings and subtleties that Minghella has crafted within the film.
Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)
Casablanca in the snows of the Pacific northwest...
Snow Falling on Cedars is much better than much of the buzz I've been hearing. Sure, if I were editing, I'd cut down on some of the kiddie love scenes but I understand that the director is working with this for the added layers it gives.
Very lyrical... beautifully photographed, definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for cinematography.
Max von Sydow provides some of the best lawyer scenes ever, and sure ... Ethan Hawke is not a strong male lead... but I don't think the role calls for a dynamic male lead--that's one of the things that unfolds as the plot develops... without giving any plot away, I'd say that Hawke is effective in his role.
The movie portrays depth of feeling in numerous scenes--the first movie I can remember dealing w/ anti Japanese prejudice in the U.S. and with the disgraceful concentration camps that the U.S. herded its Japanese citizens into during the war.
Definitely worth going to...
In some ways it reminds me of Casablanca. Both are set in WWII obviously, but at a thematic level both have a lead character who must choose whether to dwell on a past love or overcome himself and return to his idealism.
I've seen two movies in the past two days that centered on courtroom drama-- I probably won't bother to see Hurricane again, but I'm sure to revisit Cedars
Boys Don't Cry (1999)
True, disturbing film is actress tour de force
Boys Don't Cry is one of the best movies of 1999. Based on the true story of Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena, most everyone already knows that the main character is the victim of a hate crime against a girl who dares cross the gender boundaries allowable in a tiny Nebraska town, where the major events are drinking beer and bumper surfing.
Hilary Swank is magnificent as the title character. Not only does she pass as a believable young male, but she gives depth and sensitivity to the troubled hero/heroine. It will be a major shock if Swank isn't rewarded with the Oscar for Best Actress.
Equally deserving of a Supporting award is Chloe Sevigny, who plays Brandon's loyal lover. Together they provide a sexual intensity not often found in American movies.
This is a disturbing film that will linger with you long after the final scenes. Don't expect the Academy to nominate it as Best film. Not that it is undeserving, but its characters are "white trash," it contains some brutally shocking and violent scenes, and its ending is atypical of Hollywood.
This simply means that it will play well in foreign markets, at film festivals, with film critics, and film connoisseurs. So don't miss it if you appreciate fine film making.
Interesting idea takes a wrong turn
When I first heard of the Psycho remake project, I was disgusted with the idea--after all, why re-make perfection?
Besides, Psycho was one movie I had studied numerous times and had used for teaching in some upper level classes at the high school level over the years, so I knew the original film does work (if this age group takes the time to view it).
Then I heard that Van Sant was the director, which gave me pause...perhaps there was something to the project after all.
I Read up on his idea of making an actual tribute to Hitchcock by attempting for the first time to actually duplicate his original movie, so I was hooked and destined to go ahead and see it.
So I did at a midnight showing.
From the audience, it appeared that Universal was accomplishing its goal--most of the audience were teenagers, and I know that the ones who sat immediately behind me had never seen the original.
It was a weird experience knowing the film so well and now seeing a different version--kind of like seeing another stage adaptation of Hamlet or King Lear.
The music was great--the original score was there, just enhanced to match the new technology and the same style for credits was there.
Very cool shot over my fair city of Phoenix in the opening as Van Sant was able to accomplish what Hitchcock wanted to do but couldn't due to technological limitations.
Few of the actors seemed comfortable imitating their predecessors though Anne Heche was adequate in mimicking Janet Leigh. Van Sant actually granted permission to the major actors to put something of their own into the roles, but Heche decided to attempt to replicate Leigh.
William Macy actually seemed to grasp detective Arbogast's role the best of any of the "major" characters but he doesn't have many scenes. Other minor characters performed about as well as the originals, and Van Sant's cameo at the same spot as Hitch's was amusing.
I found the other main characters far less effective. While John Gavin was a rather stiff Sam Loomis in the original classic, he at least had an intensity--there was no chemistry between Vitto M. and Anne Heche even though Van Sant had him play the opening scene in the buff. Later he flirts with Marion's sister and just comes off like a country bumpkin & hardly heroic at the end.
I expected more out of Julianne Moore, who was so good in Boogie Nights, but she just comes across as an uncaring, stiff Lila Crane more concerned about her walkman than about her sister. I almost lost it when she actually winks at Norman at the check in. And then Norman winks back!!!
I can now appreciate what Anthony Perkins did for the Norman Bates role. I know that it's not really fair to compare Vince Vaughn to a movie icon...but Vaughn took on the role and decided to make it his own...
What Vaughn does to Norman, Hitchcock would have slashed out with his own butcher knife and left on the cutting floor.
The original Norman appears to be an overprotected, shy, retiring young man who in turn protects his beloved crazy mother. The flashes of anger that Perkins demonstrates are very controlled and internal...
Not so with Vaughn. From the start he lets us know that he's a goofball, with a stupid laugh and sinister look. His violent mood swings give away far too much too early and in what has to be one of the worst ever choices for making the character his own
he decides to masturbate (complete with sound so the teens won't mistake what he's up to) during the classic voyeurism scene.
I know that Van Sant really attempted to work on Hitchcock's flawless timing, yet timing the scenes via the DVD didn't work. The pace seemed off for most of the movie--perhaps due to the color, so our focus is not as narrow as it is in black and white.
Van Sant's added visual touches outside the opening shot aren't effective either. The added birds and bugs and lights to the cellar doesn't increase the shock when you meet Mrs. Bates.
This movie never grabbed me like Hitchcock's original. Of course I realize that this is not fair. Perhaps the true judge for its success depends on whether today's teens are affected by it...I suspect they won't be.
Great period piece by Gilbert & Sullivan lover...
I may be in the minority by admitting that I never took part in a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta during my high school years, and definitely in the minority when I freely admit that I've never even seen a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta in my half century of living.
So Topsy-Turvy is my first real exposure, and it is a healthy dose.
A good dose. Mike Leigh has done well creating the 1884 world that these two legends inhabit. The film opens with a capacity theater audience enjoying Gilbert and Sullivan's latest creation, Princess Ida. The audience is appreciative, yet something is missing. Sullivan senses it, as does a London critic--they have grown stale, the operettas have lost their creative thrust.
Gilbert doesn't see it; he wishes to continue along the same path of Topsy Turvydom with the tired motif of the magic potion. The partnership nearly collapses. A miracle will be needed to save it.
This miracle occurs as Gilbert's wife drags him to a Japanese exhibition in Knightsbridge. Gilbert becomes inspired, and begins to create The Mikado.
This is where the film also takes off and does its best work. I really enjoyed the scenes that show the thoroughness of the preparation--Gilbert's meticulous detailed work with the actors and their lines and having the Japanese ladies demonstrate proper Japanese walking style and fan technique, and Sullivan going over the music with the orchestra. Bruised egos and company camaraderie are clearly demonstrated when Gilbert decides to cut a song from the program, which happens to be the only major song that an aging actor has.
Leigh obviously understands the theater, and obviously loves Gilbert and Sullivan. Perhaps a bit too much, as he was loathe to cut down on the musical numbers, some of which are performed in their entirety.
This makes the movie drag, and at 2.5 hours long may be a bit long for non theater or Gilbert and Sullivan fans. The film could be tightened some more with a few cuts of subplots that lead nowhere, as in the case of a scene with Gilbert's mother that really doesn't add to the story.
But these are small quibbles for a very worthwhile movie. It is stunning visually, and Leigh lets us view backstage theater preparations as few films do.
The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
Not for everyone, but this melancholy film stays with you long after its over...
I re-watched The Sweet Hereafter on video last night, and am still haunted by it today. It is structured so that you know some of the basic tragic plot near the beginning. This caused my eyes to water at some of the beautiful lyrical overhead tracking shots of the school bus winding through the snow covered roads of the Pacific northwest.
The film switches between the time that the lawyer arrives in town to "help" the families receive compensation, and to days just prior to the accident. We witness a loving "hippie" couple who has adopted a beautiful Native American boy, a loving mother of a school phobic learning disabled boy, and a widower who loves his two children a great deal and sees them off to school by following them in his truck. This same widower is having an affair with the mother of the school phobic--she is unhappily married to a "pig" of a husband. Complicating matters is the father who obviously loves his teenage daughter in Lolita-like fashion.
Part of the theme of The Sweet Hereafter is similar to Magnolia--accidents do happen--perhaps no one at fault... or perhaps all the adults had some part in it without anyone being at fault, as only the innocent children were killed.
The town had changed... tragedy has taken away the town's joy and innocence. The parents are no longer open with each other, but guarded, suspicious... in deep grief.
The lawyer is little more than an ambulance chaser, attempting to profit off their tragedy. Yet, he, too is a tragic figure who has already "lost" his daughter--
He had saved her when she was a baby, yet she has now turned away from him... and his feelings are now ambivalent towards her--he is a grief-stricken, defeated father, who vascillates between wanting to talk with his daughter on his cell phone and deciding to cut her off.
The story of the Pied Piper is interweaved between various events in the movie to give greater depth to the story. There's also a great scene in the movie between the lawyer and the garage mechanic, who has lost his two children, that shows that the theme is much broader than the literal story:
"I'm telling you this because... we've all lost our children, Mr. Ansel. They're dead to us. They kill each other in the streets. They wander comatose in shopping malls. They're paralyzed in front of televisions. Something terrible has happened that's taken our children away. It's too late. They're gone."
This movie isn't for everyone. It's a serious, layered piece with a lot of melancholy. The kind of fare that film critics can love, but Academy voters will avoid. But what it strives to accomplish is done very well. And it will stay with you long after the final scenes have appeared.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Numbing experience of SPR redeems baby boomers...
It's been over a year since first seeing Saving Private Ryan -- it's a worthy effort by Speilberg--his best since Shindler's List by far. You've probably heard about the amount of violence, blood, and gore and that's all true--it's got the Viet Nam movie style violence (and then some) but it's not gratuitous. Were it sanitized like early WWII movies, modern audiences probably wouldn't take it as seriously.
The movie has that trademark Speilberg style--the structure is all tied up and unified from beginning to end, the emotional symbols abound, the music swelling when he's working at your emotions, the hand held camera that worked so well in Shindler's List to give you a feeling of participation, camera angles and periods of silence to disorient you (like Shindler), suspense techniques learned from Hitch... It's a movie that stays with you for a period afterwards.
Hanks will be the early front runner for Oscar after this flick--Academy members like him AND it IS his best acting job ever. While Speilberg will likely be criticized for attempting to manipulate the audience's emotions while keeping a distance from the inner core of his characters, Tom Hanks reveals a really complex military leader in this story, and does so without overacting--somehow it comes from within. While you may not empathize deeply with many of the platoon, you will still feel something because of the relationship that is formed with Hanks.
After the initial set-up, you will have the opportunity to participate in the D-Day operation and experience the horror of it. Those who have been in a real war can comment about how realistic or not Speilberg captures its chaotic horror in this scene.
In my case I again feel very lucky that my draft number was high, so I never had to face Nam like many of my classmates. Speilberg reminds us brutally in "Saving Private Ryan" that we All have a debt to pay to the brave souls who have sacrificed so much for us. What Tom Hanks does with his performance is to remind us of this debt in a very personal way.
Tarzan the Ape Man (1981)
Most awful excuse for a movie that I can recall!
The only way we survived this stinker was by continually making fun of its stupidity. Funny thing is none of the audience around us seemed to mind--we all joined in.
This movie is soooo bad, its only potential is to become a midnight cult movie that people can invent lines and throw popcorn at.