Monday, November 27, 2006

Reservoir Dogs (1992) * Viewed Twice *

And some sweet foreshadowing from Mr. Blonde.
Genre: Crime Drama Thriller

Starring: Harvey Keitel (Bad Lieutenant; From Dusk Till Dawn), Tim Roth (Rob Roy; Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead)

Directed By: Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill; Pulp Fiction)

Overview: This is the story of a jewel heist gone awry, the players involved and a slow unveiling of the mysteries of the elements of the crime, all to the super sounds of the 70s.

Acting: The thing about Quentin is that he likes being in his own movies, and everyone knows he isn't a very good actor. He knows it too, so he doesn't say too much. Buscemi, Keitel and Roth, everyone else, amazing! There were a couple odd acting moments I found strange, like Harvey pretending to light his smoke and smoke rather than actually smoking it, but man, this is intense.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: The low budget of this film is obvious in the warehouse, but there's good pans and a solid effort to make it look cool and hip, which it still is. The spinning around the breakfast table, and especially the effects used in the Commode Story were top-notch cinematographic quality. Oh it's not super duper pretty, but you know seeing this, that Quentin only picks the best.
Rating: 8

Script: "Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy? Or are you gonna bite?"
"...Featuring Rick Bodine's monster truck, The Boh-hwee-meth."
"Some other GUY on some other JOB is Mr. Purple. You're Mr. PINK!"

I could go on and on. Yes there's a couple dated lines that seem cheesy, but the rest is gold, gold, gold.
Rating: 9

Plot: The story is terrific, and the editing style of coming in half-way though the movie to explain the beginning and putting a hunk here and a clue there rather than telling the tale in a straight line really makes for exciting storytelling. I love this style, and Quentin pulls it off like a genius. The story itself is fun and you know that you have to see this film, there's no question of why, just when.
Rating: 9

Mood: When one is very much aware of the music of a film, that's a bonus. And how many people do you know own this soundtrack? I know I do, do you? See, if it's one thing I know about Quentin it's that he NEEDS the music to be just right and with a high recall value. With that said, the black suits and the big silver guns, the hip chic of every character, and the mood set by the Commode Story? Man oh God!
Rating: 9

Poor Chris Penn, died because his heart was just too big... (RIP 2006)

Overall Rating: 86% (Stop Bitchin' and See This Already!)

Aftertaste: The what now? The eighth or ninth viewing of this classic Tarantino film? You can tout and rant about must see War Epics and black and white important historic retellings, but when it comes down to it, my generation wants a solid story, cool guns, nice surprises and one hell of a soundtrack. Reservoir Dogs has it ALL, and sadistic torture to boot. Man, this will never die, never fade. It's brilliant. In fact, it's one of the first films that made me begin my true exploration of film as something to study seriously, no shinola.

First Reviewed December 25, 2005. See comments for re-viewed review.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Freshman (1925)

There's really nothing masculine about having your arms ass deep behind a man's balls

Genre: Silent Family Comedy Sport Romance

Starring: Harold Lloyd (Girl Shy; Safety Last), Jobyna Ralston (Wings; The Kid Brother)

Directed By: Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor (Slapstick Symposium)

Overview: A naive young man goes off to college in hopes of becoming the most popular boy in school. He soon finds that being on the football team is a necessary step.

Here's another one of the absolute mediocre films I feel I need mention, yet don't feel the need to waste too much of my time with, priorities being what they are in life. Rather than give a long-winded explanation of why this is passably acted in the style of the time, and shot in such a way that the camera serves to do nothing but frame the tale, I'll just tell you this: of all the Harold Lloyd films I was told I had to see 'Before I Died' by a big fat tome, this was the most unimpressive one to date. I don't know if it's because in today's day and age this warm and snugly cliché is about as lively as a necrophiliac's horse, or if it's just that of all the predictable slapsticky gag moments imaginable, this used pretty much every single one.

All in all this was probably so important a film in its time because since then I've seen this movie rehashed about fifty times. "Really? He actually comes through and wins the big game?! NO! What a twist!"

Yeah, not so much.

When a woman does it on the other hand...HOT

Overall Rating: 62% (Kinda Smelly If You Ask Me)

Aftertaste: While looking into this, I read the words 'Harold Lloyd's most loved film,' which makes it obvious to me that the person who wrote it hasn't seen a single other film of his. What's awesome about Lloyd is his stunts. This one really has none of that; it's a cute little story about a dude with a bucket of insecurities trying so hard to be famous that he looks like a gullible goof. What's the lesson here, don't be a dweeb? Thanks I learned that back in the days where I was measuring my wink in junior high.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Kingdom II (1997)

See, cause they're special they understand all the stuff going on in the spirit world, and they explain it to us. Yeah, like Rainman.

Genre: Drama Horror Mystery Comedy Mini-Series (Sweden, Italy, France, NOrway, Germany, Denmark)

Starring: Ernst-Hugo Järegård (Europa), Peter Mygind

Directed By: Lars Von Trier (Dancer In The Dark; Breaking The Waves), Morten Arnfred ("The Kingdom")

Overview: In this sequel of "The Kingdom", we actually get to see the freak baby, and explore the continuing saga of the patients, staff and ghosts in the best 'damned' hospital in Denmark!

Acting: With names even well-known enough in the West like Stellan Skarsgård (Exorcist: The Beginning; Beowulf and Grendel), it's a sure thing that the players are just as good this time around as they were the first. No it's nothing super fantastic but a couple of the characters really know how to deliver their roles just perfectly. Without characters so messed up this wouldn't have been a little too lame, to tell you the truth. They carry a lot, and they deserve their kudos.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: The Lars loved the orange filter, but at least it's not as pronounced as in The Element Of Crime, high-art that it was. In the three years since the first "The Kingdom" was made, special effects technology improved greatly... or at least this time around they didn't try doing something knowing it wouldn't look good. Television being what it is doesn't use heavy art forms in its narrative but this one goes places you'd never expect, including nudity and mutant babies and one hell car accident stunt. There's a real effort put into the look of this, but I myself found it just shy of impressive.
Rating: 7

Script: The script, I'd say is much better than the first time, however that may be due to the fact that we all know the characters already and have a synaptic sense of what they're going to say, which makes it more enjoyable. The comedy plays quite heavily this time around and though it's out of place, it's actually pretty hilarious in that dark comedy kind of way. I'd say speaking to your own turds to explain your motivations is a great way of doing exposition...
Rating: 8

Plot: The plot this time around is STILL one guy facing malpractice and trying to sneakily get himself out of it, there's still the haunted investigation bit and there's still the bureaucratic inquest into the hospital's potential improprieties. We enjoyed it, but in that "let it slide because there's no more way". Knowing there wasn't a finale made it easier to swallow, even though only a couple things got resolved.
Rating: 7

Mood: So yeah, when you get a mix of Satan and cock jokes you tend to end up with, well with something not so solid in themes. On the one hand there's this haunted hospital with an evil presence and on the other hand you don't know whether to laugh or cry at the man-headed mutant baby, and also at the same time there's some real hilarious content that plants this solidly in the comedy genre. I don't know what to make of it. Wishy-washy.
Rating: 7

Praise the motherly instinct of Girlfriend of Squish, this is her favorite part!

Overall Rating: 74% (Two Crowns Aren't Better Than One)

Aftertaste: This Ernst-Hugo Järegård guy dies between Part II and the final instalment, and so for some reason because one actor is gone, the whole production stops. Why on earth would every single actor need to be in the last one you ask? I ask too. It's frustrating because this one ends with almost as big a cliff-hanger as the last one, and I heard rumours that it was well part the deciding if it was going to be produced stage. Whatever. I bet Lars wouldn't look at doing this again, given his place in his career today.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

"In fact, should you take the square root of such a number and multiply it by the hypotenuse..."

Genre: Adventure Drama Mystery Thriller

Starring: James Stewart (The Mortal Storm; The Naked Spur), Doris Day (Calamity Jane; Teacher's Pet)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (The 39 Steps; Blackmail)

Overview: When a family on vacation is brought into the fold of an assassination plot, the assassins kidnap their son to keep them silent.

Acting: Well, by now James Stewart is as synonymous a word with Hitchcock as Suspense is, and with good reason. Here he plays an American doctor on vacation embroiled in a sinister plot, and he does of 'Entitlement' just bang on right. Doris Day is known for her musicals... apparently mediocre musicals, but in this she does such a stunning job that when it's needed, you feel it deep down. For someone to play the mother of kidnapped boy and go into hysterics without overacting... man that's hard, but she does it.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: The style here is more suspense and tension rather than the highly stylized format that gets my gander up. Hitchcock uses masterful lighting techniques to give streaks of a very un-Feng Shui feel to much of his film. Overall an innocuous style of photography with a certain unsettling subtlety.
Rating: 8

Script: For me it was this category suffered the most in the original. My script predictions turned out quite correct indeed because the characters are richer, the police begging to be let in on the secret is done far more subtly, and the veiled and not so veiled threats are pretty well said. The overall assassination slant could have been so much better delivered however, and I found the explanation scene leading up to it to be unsavoury, puns and all.
Rating: 8

Plot: The story is a touch more sinister this time around. Everything plays out pretty much the same way except that the child is younger and cuter, the kidnapping takes place far later (enough for us to connect with the kid) and those involved are smarter in the end and invite a greater climax. All told a well paced tale with a couple twists.
Rating: 8

Mood: Allow me to digress, because those of you who haven't seen the original 1934 film may not appreciate this one out of context nearly as much. I understand that Hitchcock considered this one the work of a professional compared to the last one, and what I saw, was an entirely different movie with the same core plot elements. Having seen the original enhances the experience rather than detracting from it, and I would recommend anyone interested in doing a double-bill to go ahead and watch these both in the same night. It works. Seem that the theme for Hitch' was coming full circle and tying the ends off some unfinished business.
Rating: 8

That seventh woman on the fifteenth row on the left was totally miscast, I mean come on!

Overall Rating: 80% (Tell Me More!)
Aftertaste: We were impressed with this one, but that came from having seen the first one first. Rather than rehashing the same old WWII onset plot, they made it relevant to the day much in the same way that Apocalypse Now took a contemporary story and kept it contemporary 100 years later. Even Hitchcock tried that with Sabotage, but he didn't pull it off nearly as well.

Friday, November 17, 2006

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
"Grace, you can pop my clutch anyday..."

Genre: Crime Mystery Romance Thriller

Grace Kelly (Rear Window; Dial M For Murder), Cary Grant (North By Northwest; Notorious)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Rope; Easy Virtue)

Overview: A retired jewel thief is accused of going back to his old ways, and decides to capture the perpetrator himself to clear his name.

Acting: Cary Grant in a Bohemian-striped burglar shirt serving quiche Lorraine and speaking French is more a test of his manhood and courage in the face of poofterdom than a study of his talent. Even Grace Kelly seems to sink below herself by resorting to an all too common woman unworthy of her particular style. What bother me most of all is the 27-year-old woman portraying the 17-year-old girl. Both Girlfriend Of Squish and I were all "uh there's no way she's 17." Hey, morons, why not cast an actual 17-year old? There's a frikken idea.
Rating: 7

Cinematography: Maybe it was the print of the film I was watching but holy jumping Jesus, Technicolor suffered for a while huh? Eek. It's colour but it's so damned in your face! I'll admit I did like the composition of the love scene with the fireworks in the back, and the rear projection keeps improving, and the long drives down the Riviera were exciting, but it's like Hitchcock was doing this one with a hooker under each arm as they fed him grapes... just not all there, you know?
Rating: 7

Script: The best part of the film was the witty repartée and the individual motivations. This plays out like some dry English comedy, making you laugh at the way the characters think, but it's not a comedy because that aren't trying to be funny. When you accept the premise that there people are actually this jaded, this colourful and this cynically embittered, you'll enjoy what's in store. You might as well just find a script of this and skip the rest.
Rating: 8

Plot: Girlfriends have a way of showing you that you're too into something by leaving when the premise gets too impalpable. Stoic resolve is something you need to get through the foundation of this story: Jewel thief proves he's not the culprit by committing himself to finding the person who's using his M.O. You know the logical thing to do would be say, oh, "Hey cops who've come to arrest me? Let's keep this out of the papers, you hide me for a while, and when the thief strikes again in a couple days, you'll know it wasn't me, deal?" No, instead let's go all high adventure for no reason whatsoever.
Rating: 6

Mood: There is nothing in the world that I hate more than cops who shoot at unarmed people when they have them surrounded. Using a method of drama and thrill that involves policemen shooting at silhouettes on rooftops while droves of people in the buildings are put at risk don't make for a dramatic ending, they make for a totally killed mood. Thanks Hitchcock, your hatred of the police made a laughable movie even worse. Were you high?
Rating: 6

Grace Kelly is super alluring, yes indeed, but you lose a touch of respect when she hooks up with a man twice her age who talks like a gameshow host...

Overall Rating: 68% (Stole a Couple Hours I Want Back)

Aftertaste: No, officially it's not that bad a movie. It's nowhere near as detestable as Champagne, but I have these expectations now. If it's one thing I've realized it's that we have a set amount of time to do things and if you want to change the world as a director, then you do it your way, especially when you're established the way this guy was. It's like Hitchcock pissed his life away doing what he wanted to rather than being an innovator... Even heard of challenging yourself? Bah, waste of this man's talent!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dear Wendy (2005)

Hoo, yeah! One mean possy...

Genre: Drama (Denmark, France, Germany, UK)

Starring: Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot; King Kong (2005)), Bill Pullman (Igby Goes Down; Lost Highway)

Directed By: Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration)

Overview: A young pacifist discovers a love for a seemingly juxtaposed hobby, and decides to make a club of it along with some new friends.

Acting: So you see Bill Pullman first in the credits and you think, yeah the kind of talent isn't going to be great, even though he's totally underrated. Turns out it's ok to have no name actors when they kick so much ass. It's weird because I've seen all these kids in something somewhere, and it's like they're just perfectly suited for the role, or maybe it's just so well written that any decent actor that age could pull it off with a light directorial nudge. Man, I love these kids.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: The streak of Vinterberg and Trier is ridiculously apparent in the simplicity and photographic beauty as it is merged with ever so minimalist special effects and rare moments of mood building quick cuts. This is the kind of film that is rich in interesting setting and accessories, with a touch of post-production kitsch thrown in to send it just over the line of 'cool' and puts itself under 'art'. Who knew a mining town could look so super wicked.
Rating: 9

Script: Written by Lars Von Trier. You're damned right it is. A touch of the Dogville trilogy in the layout of the town, a streak of the suspension of disbelief required for Dancer In the Dark, but the kind of tale you would attribute to literature. The kind of story that speaks simply in it's characters but is rife with symbolism and character growth. I loved it.
Rating: 8

Plot: A pacifist goes and buys a toy gun and figures out it's actually a small caliber pistol. He decides to start a little gun club, gathering losers who can extol the virtues of peace with a piece. Strong in the values of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct, this group learns and teaches one another how great it is to be confident in the knowledge that you're safe, how one changes not through carrying a gun, but making friends and gaining knowledge about a rare familiar subject. It's multi-layered, and even the ultra-dramatic ending drives the perfect power and grace required of a story where pistols are the symbol of a courageous self.
Rating: 9

Mood: Mother, it runs deep. One of the most interesting coming of age tales I've ever seen, this goes beyond the lame little, "Look mom, I'm growing up!", and goes into a full test of what it means to be a man and standing firm to one's developed morality. It's about respect and friendship, courage and grace, and though a touch over the line, it's that nice fictional touch that dramas need to make them memorable.
Rating: 9

One for All and All for Bling, Biatch

Overall Rating: 88% (Wish You Were Here)

Aftertaste: It's interesting settling into a little known film that one's only heard snippets about. Tales of how it's passably fine collide with the knowledge that this is written by a favored director and directed by one who's made one of my top five films to date. Well, go figure I thought this genius. I know why people found this a stretch to the imagination, a film rooted in suspension of disbelief, but that's what makes it so effin' awesome.

What the hell is wrong with people? How can this be so under the radar?

I Confess (1953)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

See, cause, it's about a priest, and people confess to priests... and to murders too, so it's a doubley ontondree, a PUN if you will.

Genre: Drama Thriller

Starring: Montgomery Clift (The Heiress; A Place In The Sun), Anne Baxter (All About Eve; The Magnificient Ambersons)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Lifeboat; Stage Fright)

Overview: When a murderer confesses his crime to a priest, that priest's oath binds him to secrecy, making things far more difficult when he becomes the prime suspect.

Acting: Well, I dig the Clift. He has this subtle way of instantly transforming his face from happy and calm to *BOING* shocked and stressed! He's a natural at that, and it seems he's perfectly suited at the dramatic role. it was a little weird seeing the ultra-American Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named Desire; Patton) in this story set in Quebec City playing some tough cop, but he did a great job of it, even if the script forced him there.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: I was told that this was a beautiful movie. By that I expected panoramic shots of the old Quebec that it's set in. Yes, there were a few, and for as much as old winding cobbled roads are cool, this is mostly close-ups and dialogue, not really conducive to the feel of intense cinematography. Some films are just not built for the look, no matter how hard they try to silhouette stuff. Hitchcock does what he can, and pulls it off, but it's not as pretty as say, The Trouble With Harry, with the New England leaves of fall.
Rating: 8

Script: The way this dialogue works is annoying to the French it would seem. Anyone who knows Quebec City knows that people don't speak English there, cause they'd get tarred and feathered for being a Queen's loyalist. At the same time, there's the occasional French word spoken to illustrate the setting better. Monsieux Verdoux does this and it sucks, but it doesn't suck in I Confess, don't ask me why. That ultra-minor thing aside, the script is all about letting us in on something just long enough to make us think of one thing, then blurting it out to see if we're right or not. Pretty intense at times, for sure.
Rating: 8

Plot: The biggest issue I had with the film was the entire premise, which is a bit of a kick in the pants. While watching the film I was content with the suspension of disbelief, but Girlfriend of Squish kept ruining the moment by saying, "uh, instead of saying "I can't say", why doesn't he say, "My oath prevents me from divulging information learned during confession." Damn her left-brain mind. Damn it to HELL!
Rating: 7

Mood: The theme is secrets. Secrets upon secrets, secrets of the past clashing with oaths and life decisions needing to be considered all too quickly. The mystery elements of this film are the most fun and right when you realize "oh there's something", there's something new to take it's place. Yes indeed, it sparks the mind with new things, that's the fun, peeling away the layers.
Rating: 8

Nope, no little boy pervert priest in fifties Quebec jokes... it's just waaaay too easy

Overall Rating: 78% (Admittedly Decent)

Aftertaste: The reason I've never heard of this is because it's not a landmark film, clearly. Hitchcock's heyday was shortly after this and for as much as this was a solidly made film, and quite enjoyable, the entire thing was rooted in an idea that easily could have been circumvented by a God-Fearing, law-abiding and relatively intelligent priest. No harm in saying WHY you can't talk about something, no harm at all.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Alfred Hitchcock Blog-A-Thon (November 2006)

Well here it is! My contribution to the many Blog-A-Thon Entries in honour of Alfred Hitchcock.

Over the last month, I decided to undergo a marathon of his works and, should you desire, I've quite an extensive list of reviews. So scroll around, drift through the October archives and post a comment or two telling me how wrong I am. My favorite films of his that I've seen so far will be hotlinked here as well. As many of you might show up a little late in including your posts, that's fine, I'm a little late in watching everything good ol' Hitch has made, so to all you contributors out there, take your tim and drop me a comment when your entry is up, and I'll include your site on my link as soon as possible.

This particular entry will focus on a far more personal note, a few details about my experiences of the man and his works from as early as I've ever know the 'Master of Suspense'. Included is a journal of my findings and comments as I progressed through Good Ol' Alfred's pleathora of films. Most importantly at the bottom you will find contributor links to all the juicy blog posts about this great man, his films and whatever relates to the man. Enjoy!

September 13th
My first experience of Alfred Hitchcock was by far the worst. I must have been around seven years old, over at my grandma's house and some daytime talkshow had some guest from Psycho, probably Janet Leigh, because they went on to show the entire horribly frightening shower scene, chocolate sauce and all.
I didn't sleep at all that night. Not a pleasant start to this man's works.

One summer about fifteen years later, I went to Montreal, where my date took me to the Alfred Hitchcock exhibit at an art gallery. I wasn't expecting much. Well, what a layout. There were tons of props and portraits, head shots of leading ladies, the rope from Rope, abstract eyes (pieces inspired by Spellbound), and this terrific little interview with Hitchcock himself describing his way of turning the Film Noir Genre on its ear. Alfred seemed proud of himself as he asked and answered his questions about the Film Noir Cliché and how he intentionally shattered all that with North By Northwest. I watched the whole interview alone there in that museum's large hall. What I remember most however was the last room in the corner, a bare-walled solitary place with a 1950s jungle gym upon which perched birds... big black lifelike crows to be precise, that were scattered, poised, all over the plaything and dangling from the ceiling. Really cool.

Ever since then I've wanted to see his works, but except for Psycho (both versions), The Birds and Vertigo, I just hadn't gotten around to it. I'm looking forward to this.

September 17
You know before I've even begun, I realize how important a man Hitchcock is, since both of the indy videostores I went to to get the more obscure films of the collection, has its own Hitchcock section. One even had it right next to the Kurosawa section... my next Blog-A-Thon subject...

October 13
As expected, all the films before 1934 were barely worthy of note, save The Pleasure Garden, his first, and Downhill, (his second). With the help of my friend's Chinese box set of 45 films, I've secured pretty much everything this man ever did, and I plan on watching them in chronological order.

November 1
Alright, I'm officially disolusionned. I will admit to you all that I am not a fan of hitchcock's early works. Sure I'm glad I've seen them, being the obsessive completist that I am, but the 1930s were certainly not my favorite decade for film, and sdadly Hitchcock didn't do much to improve my opinion of it. I DO know that the more we travel along this man's career path, the more he gets to where we know he's capable of being.

November 14th
Seems I've hit a pocket of genius. Rear Window, Dial M For Murder, Strangers On A Train. My God. My only wish was that he'd hit this wave a decade before.

I remember in high school when we got our yearbooks, there was a section that covered the 80s. 1989 was a full page describing the fall of the Berlin wall, the Tiananmen Square massacre, a lot of history. For all the years leading up to '89, we had a small blurb. Still to this day I remember reading "1980 - Alfred Hitchcock dies", and even back before I was inducted into the land of critics and filmmaking, I knew that was a hard fact for a lot of people.

Personal favorites:

Rear Window - 92%

The Wrong Man - 88 %, Strangers On A Train - 88%

Rebecca - 86%

Now scroll down to see all the other contributors to the Blog-A-Thon, in alphabetical order:

  • Lucas over at 100 Films includes Psycho as one of them.
  • At Critic After Dark you'l find a side by side comparission in Psycho Squared, as commented on by Noel and his Evil Twin Brother.
  • I was hoping someone would cover Gus Van Sant's Psycho! Thanks Culture Snob!
  • Over at Filmyear, Thom has some choice tidbit quotes from the master Of Suspense himself
  • Flickhead graces us with wonderful images from France.
  • Vincent visite The Trouble with Harry chez son site, Inisfree.
  • JA over at My New Plaid Pants discusses his favorite character from his favorite Hitchcock.
  • Over at Stale Popcorn, Kamikaze Camel takes an in-depth look at The 39 Steps.

Now scroll past the slate for late entries and new submissions

  • Chris over at Category D discusses Hitchcock as he relates to Film Studies.

More to come throughout the week for you procrastinators out there, including myself!

(Scroll down for new reviews of my own, and to all contributors - leave a comment with your permanent link.)

The Wrong Man (1956)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

I beat Duncanson to the sweetest Marquis ever!

Genre: Crime Drama Noir

Starring: Henry Fonda (12 Angry Men; The Grapes Of Wrath)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Murder!; The Man Who Knew Too Much)

Overview: When a man is identified as a bank robber, he does all he can to help prove his innocence, yet somehow they've not convinced that they've got the wrong man.

Acting: So Henry Fonda. You either love him or hate him, and those who hate him are complete morons who don't grasp the concept of the 'resolute everyman'. He's softer than those hard guys, yet his characters are all ultra-humanist and they're the type who keep hope with plans to persevere with a stoic resolve. Again we have that sort of man here, and awesomely done. His wife, the cops, everyone plays a role familiar and expected, while still gracing us with a unique take, personalizing it with a hint of subtext.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: The choice of using black and white film and doing a stark recreation of a heavily stylized film noir and juxtaposing it with a normal everyman's tale lends us a nice context, adding drama to what needs none, given the person suffering is someone we all know. What I was impressed with were the art shorts and camera tricks that Hitchcock used. That put this just nice over the top. I turned to Girlfriend of Squish and said, "how Hitchcock can make a man walking up stairs have so much suspense, I'll never understand."
Rating: 9

Script: The normal and everyday dialogue hits home rather well. I think my biggest issue with the film were the naive police parts, but I guess if it's based on a true story of real situations as they occurred in the Fifties, then it turns bone-chillingly weird. Cops honestly declaring details to the suspect, jurors standing up in court and talking. It's so strange you've got to believe it.
Rating: 8

Plot: This is not a mystery with a twist. Going in knowing that makes it even better, because then you're left with just an honest man's story of how he is taken by a system that does everything by the book and how this sort of thing could happen to any one of us. In fact it's based on a true story, and that's what makes it amazing.
Rating: 9

What I liked best about this story is the way it unfolded more as a personal testament than a dramatic portrayal that wrapped itself up nicely. As this is based on a true story, this has far more human elements, adding suspense in the processes rather than climaxes. Walks to the police station, confusing bureaucratic shuffles, moments spent reflecting alone, these are the things that allow us to get into the haunting experience of a man. There's no great shoot outs or terrors to reap the soul, just a constant underlying fear. The fear that everything hangs on a thread. The fear that this could happen to any single one of us.
Rating: 9

Now you SIT THERE and THINK about what you didn't do!

Overall Rating: 88% (The Right Way To Tell It)

Aftertaste: Why have I never heard of this?! People can go on and tout Rear Window all they like, I know I have, but this is a story about a regular guy and his life falling apart, not some jet-setting photographer and his fashion-bound girlfriend. This is AMAZING.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Rear Window (1954)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

I don't blame him for looking at her rear window either...

Genre: Mystery Thriller

Starring: James Stewart (Shenandoah; Vertigo), Grace Kelly (Dial M For Murder; High Noon)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Champagne; The Farmer's Wife)

Overview: A photographer with a broken leg is laid up with only his window overlooking his neighbours as entertainment. When he starts noticing some suspicious behaviour, he wonders if it could be murder.

Acting: We have a perfect mesh of the ideal archetypes: the girl in love, exuding style, grace and perfection; the nurse, quippy, straight up and down to earth; the detective, hardened and blasé; and our photographer, a man bored and curious to find excitement in this broken-legged dreary day. Yet each of these players have a real element of humanity that makes us realize that they fully comprehend the possibilities of what could be unfolding, and from those archetypes flow subtle nuance and rich backstory. At one point I turned to Girlfriend of Squish, gagging, telling her how Hitchcock should stop overfeeding me perfection. I almost puked.
Rating: 10

Cinematography: I love stylized film. I'm all about the art at heart. This is the finest example of the everyday made gallery-worthy. When our photographer looks out the window, we drift glancing across long-swaying pans between the apartments that make up his/our field of vision. It's so simple and seamlessly beautiful that you know right away how perfectly this was edited. One of my favorite shots is the introduction of Lisa Freemont, the girlfriend. In the dark, she smiles a rich red wet-look lipsticked smile and comes in close, soft and graceful upon her man, sleeping in his wheelchair. As a filmmaker, should I ever be able to pull off such a shot and inspire one's perfection in a character within seconds, damn, I'd be a genius.

Remember in The Big Lebowski when we meet Jesus for the first time in that bowling alley (played by John Turturo), all slow-motion quick cuts and extreme close-ups while a Latin fanfare plays? Yeah, floors you.
Rating: 9

Script: The perfect mix of funny and deep with the ever-current. We have love-interest sub-plots that aren't cheesy. We have mysteries discussed, dismissed and re-discovered. This is the kind of script where the everyman finds the extra-ordinary and does everything he can to come to a simple logical conclusion. With just enough exposition to keep revealing the mystery, and just enough doubt to keep the mystery going, you'll understand why this is one of the best American films ever made.
Rating: 10

Plot: Imagine yourself stuck in an apartment for six weeks, going a little batty. You begin people watching through their windows, as friends tell you to stop your voyeurism, to take up reading or something. Then you're convinced that something is terribly amiss across the way. What makes this film such genius is the way the secondary characters approach the subject when it's brought up. At first dismissive, they indulge the man speaking to them just long enough to caution his cabin-fevered self. What impressed me most was not how this film ended or the intense moments of classic Thriller fame, but that all those who were brought into the fold seriously considered the issue, as we all would, rather than going screwball and cracking out one-liners.
Rating: 9

Mood: The themes of sinful voyeurism co-mingles with a Film-Noiresque lighting motif. Shade and light play an integral part in this film, be it as simple as making sure the lamp is off while spying or in the way we learn that someone is hiding there, their solitary cigarette ember burning in their darkened room. As the film progresses, the darkness and the shadows grows more prevalent, until it reaches a grand apex. Man, I gotta see this again and soon.
Rating: 8

Yeah, you look long enough and you're sure to find some skin-crawlin' bedonkedonk.

Overall Rating: 92% (Sneak A Peek at Perfection)

Aftertaste: The best Hitchcock film I've seen yet. I only hope that there's a films I'll prefer even more than this, like North By Northwest or Psycho, but I'm going to have a hard time believing that those films were made as perfectly. Here is the gold I've found among the ruins of the past.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Trouble With Harry (1955)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

Yup, that's Beaver Cleaver alright

Genre: Comedy Mystery

Starring: Edmund Gwenn (Them!; The Skin Game), John Forsythe (In Cold Blood; Scrooged)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Topaz; Torn Curtain)

Overview: When a man out shooting his rifle comes across a dead man, he tries to cover up the accident, but there's lost more trouble with Harry that awaits.

Acting: The trouble with Harry is that the characters are just a little too screwball for me to see as great players doing great roles. Someone somewhere decided to tone down these people rather than let them fly and do a spot of overacting. In a way were these actors trying to make sure that they proved they could do dramatic roles? Certainly not John Forsythe. Wait, wait! That's going overboard. I take back what I said about the guy who stared in "Charlie's Angel's" and "Dynasty". I sincerely apologize.
Rating: 7

Cinematography: The trouble with Harry is that you often stop thinking about how funny it is and take in the gorgeous sights that are the New England scenic motifs of Autumn. Absolutely stunning. Then you go back to a sound stage with all too perfect lighting that draws you out of the moment a little, then back into amusing shots like the one above, or the ones where hobos steal Harry's shoes. Poor Harry.
Rating: 8

Script: The trouble with Harry is the lines written for Forsythe. Everyone else unfolds brilliantly, witty and well-timed, and the laughter does stem pretty solely from the dialogue. Comedy of errors abound in this, and if it hadn't been for some weird rulership of narrative as expressed by our main character, it would have gone much better, and far less forced.
Rating: 7

Plot: The trouble with Harry is that he's dead. He's dead right away and we know how it happened. Then we doubt what happened, so someone goes and digs him up to see what exactly happened. When they realize it didn't quite happen like they thought it would happen, they bury Harry (ha!) but then people start wondering what happened and the shovels start becoming secondary cast members. Actually, the trouble with Harry is that it went the way of Weekend At Bernie's 30 years later.
Rating: 8

Mood: The trouble with Harry is that he isn't all that funny. When something claims itself to be funny because of one laugh that's stretching it way too far. When something else claims to be funny because it's full of mediocre laughs and screwball situations, it's a touch better. And finally when something claims to be more about the thrill than the laugher, and it ends up being funnyish in it's own right, well that's the best way of going at it. Harry went somewhere between forced screwball and letting it happen.
Rating: 7

"So uh, shouldn't we stop the coyotes from eating his face?"

Overall Rating: 74% (Not All That Much Trouble)

Aftertaste: The trouble with Harry is that he's got a title too easy to make fun. You end up in the land of overkill. The neat thing about this is that if you consider the director, the subtext is terrific. "Look at that Hitchcock making a comedy about a dead guy. It's perfectly up his alley." If you didn't know it was Hitchcock, maybe it wouldn't be as entertaining. What would have made this better is if he had done self-mockery of his own styles of cinematography, like going overboard with Noir lighting or having everyone in trench coats and dark hats for a scene, you know, something contextual. That's it. I'm decided. When I make my 43rd film, it's all be a self-mockery of my own style. You read it here first!

Dial M For Murder (1954)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

"How many times have I told you not to call long distance until AFTER SIX!"

Genre: Crime Thriller

Starring: Grace Kelly (High Noon; Rear Window), Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend; X)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Blackmail; Secret Agent)

Overview: A man plots the murder of his wife. Will the plan run without a hitch, or will some quick-thinking improvisation be required?

Acting: When someone has a name like Chastity, you just know you have the best chance in the world for a top-of-the-line lay after last call. What a surprise that someone with such a name as 'Grace' would be one of the few actresses out there who has an immediate and... graceful presence. If you asked me who her male counterpart would be I'd instantly say James Cagney, a man so perfect in his skin that he exudes style, but I digress. Grace aside, all the players are perfectly guided by the ultra-uber experienced Hitchcock.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: Plays make for visuals that are relatively static, the medium insisting so much on sets and stages. What one must do to enhance the film translation of a play is to focus on the players. You must zoom-in on the little hand gestures, on photos on a wall (cameo!), the camera must remain a floating eye amidst the stoic surroundings. Hitchcock taught me that he could do this ever since Lifeboat, and he does it here again.
Rating: 8

Script: "What money? It'd be months before I'd get my hands on that and people don't commit murder on credit!"

Witty stuff. This dialogue is the kind that is drawn out, long discussions about details and plans. A given scene begins with a scenario, questions arise, tests of the formulated plan. As discussions continue, we slowly uncover the mystery and the suspense until each of our questions are answered perfectly. This is the kind of detailed planning that some writers dread, since attention to such detail invites scrutiny. When it succeeds however, it's brilliant.
Rating: 9

Plot: If you haven't seen as many films as I have, should I say something like 'though mildly predictable'? Maybe not. I guess I'll just say that the first little bit is expected and well laid out, but when a plan is so perfectly explained, doesn't that mean it's doomed to failure? Perhaps, but what happens next is a twist upon a twist and goes so far into the realm of the unbelievably believable that I was pleasantly surprised at the ending.
Rating: 8

Mood: Much like it was with Rope, it's heavy dialogue and very little change in sets. Yet such a specific theme so closely focussed upon by such men of such intellect and quick-wit makes for a great experience. You'll be smiling at the evil machinations as they unfold. Might I also mention, finally a story where a detective is actually not a bumbling oaf? How long did that take you Hitch? Twenty-Seven years? Yeah, thanks for growing up a little.
Rating: 8

"Honey? Do you know anyone by the name of Ghhuurgrahhh?"

Overall Rating: 84% (Even if You Gotta Call Collect!)

Aftertaste: The wall of 'Awesome Hitchcock' is upon me and as I commented in Emma's blog, aren't you all jealous that I'm seeing the greats for the first time? The Man Who Knew Too Much, North By Northwest, I Confess... here I come!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Strangers On A Train (1951)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

"Ah, what a nice lighter! By showing me this, you infer clearly that I should smoke your wife... How clever!"

Genre: Crime Drama Film-Noir Thriller

Starring: Farley Granger (Rope; The Purple Heart), Robert Walker (Bataan)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Lifeboat; Foreign Correspondant)

Overview: A couple of strangers bump into one another on a train. Bruno pitches a theory about switching murders. By the the time Guy's figured out it was more than friendly banter, he's in all too deep.

Acting: Absolutely fantastic. When I first heard of this film I'd always thought it was a couple of sane guys deciding on swapping murders. I had no idea it was about one calm and collected fellow talking to a right out-there wacko nut-job. As Bruno, Robert Walker takes the cake. He's great at being creepy-cool-Noir. In fact everyone is just the right amount of 'off'.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: This film is less about high art (though there's even some of that) and more about unique settings. The long stalking scene at the fair is surely one of the most famous in film history and with good reason. The tunnel of love is full of suspense, and as climactic endings go, having a dramatic finale on a Merry-Go-Round is absolutely awe-inspiring. I know this is one of the one's I'll be seeing again one day for sure.
Rating: 9

Script: Bruno, you whack-job. Without your dialogue and the unique self that you are, this film would still have been great but nowhere near as memorable. The way this film's words play out is more like a constant tragedy of errors and synchronicities of juxtaposed thought rather than sensible rationales. In a way you're predictable, because madmen are often all too obvious.
Rating: 8

Plot: When I consider how simply this film could have turned formulaic, I thank my lucky stars that the men behind the lens understood the consequences of their actions. Is it possible that these people knew they were making one of America's most famous films? You know, I bet they did. When you take simplicity and confound it with madness, everyone wins. Add characters oblivious and wild, without spending too much time in detailing everything and you have a story that speaks volumes in silence.
Rating: 9

Mood: I will say that I hoped for a far more stylized film. I mean when I think Film-Noir, I think at the boldest extreme, Sin City. Stark shadows and shaded eyes under street lamps, that hyper-typical stuff. While I watched this however I realized that Hitchcock's take on Film-Noir takes it out of the shadows and into a twilight that invites his own originality to shine through. This is an engrossing film, but you knew that already.
Rating: 9

Aww isn't it cute? She thinks he's checking her out, but he's actually stalking... awwww

Overall Rating: 88% (Get Familiar With It)

Aftertaste: The second I saw a man wearing a tie clip that read 'Bruno' clipped to a tie with lobsters on it, I knew that I was in for a totally different film than I expected. Fairgrounds at night are haunting, they're awesome and when huge machines go out of control, well that's a grace that speaks for itself. This is one of Hitchcock's best films, and one of my favorites. Sorry to be so predictable...