Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Top & Bottom of 2007 - #2

Children of Men (2006)
The camera work in this film is exquisite; the scenes containing the greatest dramatic tension are each played out in a single shot. In a world where women have lost the ability to give birth, civilization decays as humanity dies out. And then Theo (Clive Owen) meets a pregnant woman and must find a way to bring her to safety to where her baby will be cared for and not exploited. There are many wonderful, beautiful moments in this film, but the one that stands above the others, and impacted me the most emotionally, is one in which Theo escorts the newborn baby and her mother through a crowded apartment building, past soldiers and guerilla fighters alike, all stunned in amazement at hearing the sound of a baby’s cry for the first time in almost 20 years.

The Three Caballeros (1944)
Where is the story in this mess? All I got out of it was Donald Duck lusts after human women. That and people in Brazil and Mexico do nothing but party all day. The two shorts at the beginning were fun, but had nothing to do with the rest of the film.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Top & Bottom of 2007 - #3

Going My Way (1944) & The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
Bing Crosby stars as Father O’Malley, the coolest priest in movies. Going My Way is essentially the story of a friendship that develops between O’Malley and the much older Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald). Father O’Malley must get Father Fitzgibbon to change his ways in order to be more relevant to younger generations while still giving him the respect due him as an older, senior priest. The Bells of St. Mary’s has Father O’Malley teaming up with Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) to keep the St. Mary’s school open, with prayer being one of the main tools used to combat the unfriendly developer next door who wants to turn St. Mary’s into a parking lot. It also contains one of the sweetest nativity stories in it. Each film stands on its own, and they can be watched in any order. With people like Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman in the clergy, it makes the priesthood look that much more attractive.

Red Sonja (1985)
And I thought Conan the Destroyer was bad. The action scenes were anything but thrilling, the kid was almost more annoying than the kid in The Poseidon Adventure, and the dialog was wretched. Just about the only saving grace of the film is that it has some interesting art direction (some of which works well while other aspects fall under the category of over-the-top silliness) with the skeleton bridge being the highlight. Also, there’s the fatal flaw in the construction of the world: the thing that made the world needs sunlight (which it created) to survive, and to keep the world from being destroyed, it has to be destroyed (though wouldn’t that destroy the world too?). Talk about a bad rip-off of Lord of the Rings.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bragging Time

I just saw, on the big screen, with an audience, in a double bill with The Magnificent Ambersons, the greatest movie of all time: Citizen Kane. It is still all it's cracked up to be, and seeing it on the big screen caused me to notice a couple things I had never seen before. If you have the chance to see it on the big screen, go directly to the theater, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Top & Bottom of 2007 - #4

Here we have a silent film and a film featuring a silent comedian. One is much better than the other.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
This is a wonderfully simple and beautiful love story of a man who, after falling prey to the vixen from the city, falls in love with his wife all over again, remembering why he married her in the first place. There are some beautifully realized camera effects in the beginning, and the final half hour is told exclusively through the visuals, without a single title card to be found (I think).

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965)
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting very much when I watched it, but it had Buster Keaton in it, and I figured that even if the rest of the movie was a waste of time, at least Keaton’s scenes would be funny. As it turned out his scenes were the most amusing part of the film, but since he played such a broad stereotype of a witch doctor with minimal physical comedy, even his scenes were painful to watch. The rest of the film is pretty standard beach movie stuff where all the boys go gaga over the new exotic beach babe, and all the other girls get jealous. (The ironic thing is I usually find most of the "plain" beach babes to be more attractive than the new "exotic" one.) I felt like I should go to confession after watching this film. Buster Keaton should go to confession for being in the film.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Top & Bottom of 2007 - #5

Cape Fear (1962)
Robert Mitchum oozes quite menace as he harasses the man (Gregory Peck) responsible for sending him to prison. He makes subtle threats, leers at Peck’s preteen daughter, and always manages to be right around the corner, no matter where the family goes. What makes the film even more sinister is that Mitchum’s character manipulates the law, using it to further his harassment of Peck’s family. Truly one of the greatest Hitchcock films Hitchcock never directed (along with Charade and Les Diaboliques).

Witchfinder General (1968)
This might have made an interesting film, but instead it was content to be a heavy-handed, nihilistic indictment of power in general and the church in particular.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Top & Bottom of 2007 - #6

Sergeant York (1941)
Gary Cooper puts in the performance of a lifetime as Alvin York, a man who after finding God, spends the rest of his life trying to be the best person he can. This leads him to WWI, where he manages to win just about every award and commendation available for his heroics. And yet through it all he remains as humble as ever. One thing that really struck me was in a scene where York has a debate with one of his commanding officers over the morality of war, and the arguments of both men come from Scripture. And neither man has faulty exegesis. That is not something I would expect to see in a movie today.

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
The plot was mostly concerned with Dracula killing three men who were instrumental in bringing him back to life. It is also one of those dumb horror films in which none of the main characters die (though if the filmmakers are truly committed to their world they would) and yet all the supporting characters get bumped off. Sure the colors were gorgeous and Christopher Lee was fabulous as Dracula, but the deeply flawed script puts it squarely in Mystery Science Theater 3000 territory.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Oscar Predictions

For a short hiatus from my top and bottom 10 lists, since the Oscar nominations are being announced tomorrow, here are the five films I think will be nominated for best picture.

No Country for Old Men
Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
There Will Be Blood

Of course I would not be terribly surprised if either Michael Clayton or American Gangster scores a nomination as well, and as for a couple dark horse candidates, I'm going with Ratatouille and Hairspray.

We'll see tomorrow how I did.

Top & Bottom of 2007 - #7

Brick (2005)
Once you get into the rhythm of the unique dialog, Brick takes its audience on a wild film noir ride. In high school. The plot is full of twists and surprises, the violence is sudden, realistic, and brutal, and our hero even wears glasses. While it may be the least accessible film on my list, it is still highly rewarding to those who are able to immerse themselves in the world it creates.

A Boy and His Dog (1975)
A whole lot of nothing happens. Then there’s some confusing running around and shooting. Then our "hero" goes underground and some more no-a-whole-lot happens. Then he comes back to the surface. Then the credits roll. Oh, yeah, there’s a dog and a girl involved as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Top & Bottom of 2007 - #8

In 2007 I started exploring the world of 1940s and 1950s horror films, and was pleasantly surprised by how good many of them were. I also started making an effort to see all of the Oscar winners for best picture that I hadn't seen yet, with some being great, others not so (and I have only Cavalcade and Wings to go to complete the list). Coming in at #8 is one of each.

Cat People (1942)
This was my first foray into the works of producer Val Lewton, and it served to be a truly wonderful introduction. They sure don’t make horror like they used to. Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur give us frightening world that derives it’s scares not through jump scenes and gore, but through an increasingly eerie atmosphere, where what the audience does not see is more frightening than what it does. There are several memorable moments in the film, but the standout here is one in which a young lady is trapped in a dark indoor swimming pool while being stalked by what may or may not be a giant cat. It may not sound very scary on paper, but on screen it is wonderfully effective.

Cimarron (1931)
I just couldn’t get into this film, and it covered way too much ground for one movie. I guess it was supposed to be the history of Oklahoma told through the trials of one family, much like Giant is the story of Texas, but it appealed to me even less than Giant did (which wasn’t very much). It started promisingly with an ambitions dramatization of the Oklahoma land rush, but it was all pretty much downhill from there. It was also sadly ironic in that while Richard Dix’s Yancey is so fired up for Indian’s rights, the depiction of all the African American characters is heavy handed and shameful. When their African American servant (practically still a slave) is shot by a Billy the Kid knock-off, my first thought was, "How sad. He shot their pet Negro." The film also seems to glamorize Yancey’s lack of commitment to his wife and children, leaving them for years on end to satisfy his wanderlust.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Top & Bottom 10 of 2007 - #9

Hot Fuzz (2007)
From the people who brought us Shaun of the Dead comes an affectionate sendup of all the not-so-great Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer films where explosions are more important than character development. Simon Pegg stars as a hotshot police officer who gets exiled to the country because he is too good, making the rest of the London police force look bad. There, along with the constable’s son (Nick Frost), he uncovers the town’s dark secret, culminating in a grand explosion of action that would put John Woo, Michael Bay, and Tony Scott to shame (or make them proud, take your pick). The script is full of dry British wit, and the story of two friends who are able to get the other one to stretch (Frost becomes a better police officer while Pegg learns how to relax) is effective. And the award for best cameo of the year goes to Bill Nighy who is hilarious as the police inspector responsible for sending Pegg’s character to the country.

Ghost Rider (2007)
The beginning was so formulaic: each scene screaming out its importance with foreshadowing oozing from every pore. Then the visual effects kick in, with most of them looking silly and nothing looking original. When Ghost Rider battles the villains, the rule seems to be that whoever can produce the biggest special effects wins. And we won’t even get into the issues of everyone being sinners so there are no innocent people, and the devil is a far cry from being God’s lawman, the way he’s pictured here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Top & Bottom 10 of 2007 - #10

Every year around this time, critics come out with their top 10 lists of the best films of the year. While I haven't seen too many films from 2007 yet (and hardly any of the big Oscar contenders), I did see 163 movies for the first time in 2007, which is more than enough films to come up with both a top 10 and a bottom 10. Instead of giving you all twenty in one blow, I figured I would draw the lists out like a countdown to both the best and the worst films I saw in 2007. This both increases the suspense (hopefully) and lets me create more blog posts. So without further ado, my anticipatory readers, here are the tenth best and worst films of my 2007 film Odyssey.

Enchanted (2007)
Amy Adams is an animated princess who is banished by the wicked queen into the real world of New York City. Hilarity ensues when cultures collide, but the film never gets mean spirited like the similarly themed Shrek movies. One of the things that really makes this movie work is that the filmmakers stayed true to the rules they set up at the beginning of the film, and never resorted to slapstick "comedy" to get all their laughs. The songs are wonderful, especially "That’s How You Know," a lavish song and dance number winding its way through Central Park, growing larger and larger until the final musical "ta da!" And of course Amy Adams is a joy to watch in every single frame.

Cabaret (1972)
If I want a musical about the Nazis taking over while people just try to live their lives, give me The Sound of Music. If I want a musical with musical numbers taking place on some magical stage that may or may not actually exist in reality, give me Chicago. If I want a film about mismatched people falling in love even though they probably shouldn’t, give me Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Funny Girl, or My Fair Lady. If I want a musical about a singer/performer who is working at a place of questionable legitimacy but hopes to become a real actress, give me Moulin Rouge! I also failed to see the significance of most of the songs; they seemed to be only loosely connected to the main plot. The only song that did work for me was the "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" song sung by a young Nazi, the only song performed outside the cabaret. The main problem is that through both this song and the conclusion of the film, the Nazis come out looking like the heroes, bringing order and inspiration to a chaotic world. There are too many better musicals for this to have made the new AFI 100 list.