Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wait Until Dark (1967)

“All right, all right you can have it... you can have the doll! I'll give it to you... if you'll... if you'll just go and... and...  Not hurt me.”

            I love a good thriller. If done right thrillers can send chills up your spine and make you think twice about everything and everyone in your life. Hitchcock is undoubtedly the master of thrillers since his films usually have me on edge and curled in a ball the entire time. But sometimes thrillers can fall short which is how I felt about Wait Until Dark.
            When he was in the airport Sam Hendrix was given a doll by a woman claiming that the doll was for her sick daughter but she did not want her other kid to be jealous so she wants him to take it for a while. But when the woman does not come back he goes home with the doll. When he gets home to New York to his wife Susy (Audrey Hepburn) he tells her the story.
            While both Susy and Sam are out three men get into their apartment. Mike Talman and Carlino are both men for hire. They have been summoned to the apartment by a man named Harry Roat (Alan Arkin). Roat wants the doll for the drugs that are hidden it. Roat’s plans to get the doll center around the fact that Susy is blind. This fact will make it easier to find the doll since she cannot identify them and will not know what they are doing.
            Mike tells Susy that he is a friend of Sam’s from the army. Once this happens their plan works for a while until Susy catches on by the sound of Roat’s shoes when he comes down the stairs. They terrorize her but she gets back at Roat when he comes by himself by making the entire room dark as she sees the world.
            The plot sounds intriguing and very thrilling (if I was good at explaining it) but I was not sitting on the edge of my seat like I was meant to be. First off I do not even know why I sat through this because I cannot stand Audrey Hepburn. She has just always driven me up a wall and I do not care for her acting at all. People make too big a deal about her in my opinion. The story was written for the stage by the same writer who created Dial M For Murder. Besides Audrey Hepburn being the film maybe I did not think it was a good thriller because Hitchcock did not direct it (although I believe he did want Hepburn for a film that was never realized… thank God for that). Dial M For Murder was a great story and I can see it being excellent on the stage but Wait Until Dark just lacked the former’s suspense. I will say Alan Arkin was a creepy bastard he was the only good aspect of the film.
            Wait Until Dark was alright I did like the plot but if you have seen Dial M For Murder you may know what is coming and it is pretty much the same concept just with a couple of different elements. I say just sit through it for Alan Arkin he was incredible and if you are an Audrey Hepburn fan. Skip otherwise.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Iron Lady (2011)

“I AM the Prime Minister.”

            Before viewing The Iron Lady I had only known that Margaret Thatcher was the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Through the movie I learned she was a tough lady who knew what she wanted and never backed down. She served as Prime Minister for eleven years even though her terms in office were times of utter chaos for the country.
            The film is told through flashbacks as an older Margaret thinks about her life after the death of her husband Denis. The flashback scenes are thrown around and not very coherent. They do start when she was younger working in her parents’ store and being accepted into Oxford. The film works its way through when she began an interest in politics and how she was very passionate about them from a young age.
            In between her flashbacks Margaret hallucinates that her husband is still alive and going about his daily business. She picks out his clothes and tells to remember his scarf and watches home videos with him.
            The flashbacks become interesting when she reflects on her years as Prime Minister. Apparently she just wanted to run to shake things up she was not running because she wanted to be the Prime Minister but her advisors told her she could run the country. We see some of her defining moments and some moments where the country completely turned against her.
            I liked seeing how some of these moments in career still kept her up at night so many years after she left her post. Since I do not know too much about Margaret Thatcher I would have liked to have seen the more political moments of her career (even though I hate politics I am a HUGE Anglophile so I would not have minded even learning about their politics). But from what I have read her time as Prime Minister was very controversial and critics would have had things to say no matter what side was shown.
            Meryl Streep absolutely deserved her Best Actress Academy Award without a doubt. The thing about Streep is that no matter what kind of character she plays she becomes that character to perfection. The woman is amazing, she does what every actress/actor is supposed to do they are supposed to play their characters convincingly.
            Jim Broadbent was fantastic. He had some funny scenes and lines and some really touching especially at the end where I teared up a bit.
            Makeup artists Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland absolutely deserved the Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup for turning Meryl Streep into Margaret Thatcher. It is unbelievable how incredible she looked both as a younger Thatcher and an older Thatcher with wrinkles and jowls.
             Now I thought The Iron Lady was good but there are a few flaws where Meryl Streep’s acting comes in to save the day. The flashbacks at times are muddled and confusing and they go through a certain event too quickly. The direction by Phyllida Lloyd was exceptional especially with showing the personal aspects of this once great and powerful lady. The Iron Lady despite some of its flaws is an excellently made film in every aspect.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Silent Sundays: Wings (1927)

“D'you know what you can do when you see a shooting star?”

In honor of the Academy Awards tonight I have decided to dedicate this Silent Sunday to the very first Best Picture winner Wings from 1927. Actually Wings won Best Production the Best Picture title did not come until the following year.
            The film takes place before and during the First World War. Two boys named Jack Powell and David Armstrong live in the same neighborhood. They do not really like each other because they are both in love with the same girl Sylvia. Sylvia is very much in love with David but does not know how to tell Jack that. Right in front of Jack is the girl he once saved from a bonfire Mary Preston (Clara Bow). She loves Jack unquestioningly.
            Jack’s dream is to fly a plane. Before he leaves for the war he sups up a car which Mary calls The Shooting Star. When he leaves he has Mary look after the car. Also before the war Jack goes to Sylvia’s house just as she has finished signing the back of a picture of herself to David. Jack thinks the picture is for him and is so excited Sylvia does not have the heart to tell him the picture is not for him. Sylvia tells David that Jack may have her picture but David has her heart.
            Before they can fly Jack and David have to go through training camp on the ground. Jack still holds a grudge against David so he smashes his hat and when they train in boxing they have an all out fight. After the fight they have a new respect for one another and become the best of friends.
            David and Jack become two flying aces in their regiment. They each gun down several German planes.
            There is a lot more to this story but I cannot give away too much unless you want to be spoiled. Also the story is really long I am not in the mood to type too much of it out.
            This marks the first time I have ever seen Clara Bow in a film. Eh, she really did not do anything for me. I did like her character. I loved her Army uniform; Mary drives an ambulance for the Army. Her uniform looked awesome with the hat, jacket, pants, and high boots. Charles “Buddy” Rogers was very good I liked him. I laughed at his drunken scenes and felt terrible for him at the end. Gary Cooper is the film for not even five minutes but he was so handsome in his uniform.
            A really cool scene was when Jack was in Paris. The camera pans the café through couples sitting at tables. The panning is awesome I loved it. The direction by William Wellman is truly inspiring. The scenes he was able to film and all the emotions he captured were incredible.
              This is famed costumes designer Edith Head's first film. Do not expect to see her glamorous clothing of her later films but her designs for Clara Bow were ok expect for the uniform that was a great costume. Apparently Bow wanted her uniform to form to her curves and drove people nuts wanting to wear a belt. The belt works though it really adds to the costume. 
            Wings was an alright film. I do not know if I had my expectations too high for me to really like it. I did find it an hour too long. I understand the film is a landmark I do appreciate it for that but I just felt it dragged when a lot of the scenes could have been cut down. The film does have some strengths but to me there were more weaknesses. I would for anyone who wants to begin viewing silent films to not watch Wings first but eventually down the road do watch it. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Consolation Marriage (1931)

Consolation Marriage is a film I would like to see remade today because I think the plot would not really shock modern audiences… I do not know how to gauge the audiences’ reactions today but I know it would be something different and maybe odd for them to see. Pre-Code films explored relationships in such a way that not even films today do. Consolation Marriage is just one of a handful of pre-codes that gives a little twist and a lot of thought to relationships.
            Mary Brown (Irene Dunne) and Steve Porter (Pat O’Brien) have just been jilted by their childhood sweethearts Aubrey and Elaine (Myrna Loy). Elaine and Aubrey are getting married to people with money who can further them either socially or career wise.
            Mary and Steve meet at a restaurant the day they each lost their sweethearts. He sees that she is lonely sitting at the table all by herself so he goes over to her. They have a great time together and get back to her place early in the morning.  
            Sometime later they decide to marry. Mary puts it best when she says they are substitutes for their lost loves. Down the road things get a little complicated when they have a daughter.
            Eventually Aubrey comes back into Mary’s life and Elaine to Steve’s life. Elaine almost runs away with Aubrey leaving the baby with Steve but she realizes at that moment that she could not live without her daughter and that she really does love Steve. That same night Steve brings Elaine over to meet Mary. There is no hostility between the women but Mary begins to feel uncomfortable since she just realized her true love for her husband. As Steve and Elaine sit outside together he too has a realization that he loves his wife.
            In the end Steve and Mary decide to stay together (as if that was not a surprise).
            This film, according to the poster, was Irene Dunne’s first starring vehicle. I never have an issue with her acting the woman really was flawless. You can see what goes through her mind just by her facial expressions and her body language. Myrna Loy is not the film for very long since she is the lost love but her few scenes were alright. She does not say too much in her autobiography about making the film which I do not blame her. Loy is blonde first of all which makes her look awful and second, Louis B. Mayer wanted her to be a dramatic actress since he saw her that way outside of her vamp roles. So, definitely do not expect the “perfect wife” anywhere near this film. I believe this is the first time I have ever seen Pat O’Brien in a film. I did not care for him at all. He reminded me a stupid love sick boy, almost like Eric Linden in the two or three films I have seen him in. All I kept thinking was that this guy is supposed to be one of the best actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age? (or so I have heard).
            Consolation Marriage is interesting to watch just to see the liberal views on marriage at a time when most people today think were virtuous. No one is supposed to be bad or think liberally except for gangsters and morally corrupt people. As I said at the beginning of this review it would be so interesting to see this film remade today because the concept would baffle some people. Mary and Steve are in an open relationship something that today is even frowned upon.
            Consolation Marriage is an interesting pre-Code. Irene Dunne is the only to give a good performance in this melodrama. Give the film a try if you can find it. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Captain Blood (1935)

“Are you willing to fight, men?”

            Swashbucklers are not my favorite film genre. I do not hate them I feel that if you have seen one you have seen them all. Besides most of the ones that I have seen are super cheesy (or annoying like I find Pirates of the Caribbean). Well I shall now be making an exception with Captain Blood starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland… and it is not just because they are the two stars.
            Dr. Peter Blood (Flynn) has been wrongly accused of treason by the King of England when he helped to save a rebel. He had never taken a side so he finds that he is accused of treason to be ridiculous and unfair. Blood and a group of other men are sentenced to be hanged until fait intervenes in a perverse way and they are saved only to be sent to Jamaica as slaves.
            Once in Jamaica they are auctioned off like cattle to a man named Colonel Bishop (Lionel Atwill). Before he buys them he checks their muscles and demands that they open their mouths. When the colonel gets to Peter the wronged slave does not open his mouth when told to embarrassing the colonel in front of the town. Bishop refuses to take him but his niece Arabella (de Havilland) defies her uncle and bids on Peter.
            Peter is still a slave but instead of doing labor like the others he is assigned by the governor to be his doctor after he got rid of the governor’s gout. Peter begins to plan an escape with the other men. Fait again intervenes when the French invade the small colony. The men highjack a ship and set sail on the high seas.
            Captain Blood and his crew are now notorious pirates of international waters. But they do have rules and regulations since Peter is first and foremost a gentleman.
            One of the ships the crew highjack’s happens to be the ship that Arabella is traveling on back to Jamaica. She is traveling with a diplomat to the crown unbeknownst to Peter. Peter wants to do the right thing and bring Arabella back to Jamaica even though her uncle who is now governor of the island wants to kill him and his men. On their way back they see the Spanish are now invading the colony. The shipmates are in a jam, they do not want to help King James the man who had them sent to the island. But the diplomat tells them that they will not be fighting for King James they will be fighting for good King William who has taken over the throne and their treason is pardoned.
            Captain Blood and his men fight for the king. The English conquer the Spaniards with the help of the pirates. The diplomat is outraged when Bishop returns because as governor he left his country alone to be taken over. He appoints Peter as the new governor.
            And I am sure you can guess that Peter and Arabella wind up together.
            This is the first film in which Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland were given top billing and also the first of their nine pairings. Flynn is wonderful. His character is supposed to be a kind and charming man and that is exactly the way he plays him. Besides Robin Hood, Peter Blood is my favorite of Flynn’s screen roles I have seen. He was wonderful in all the action scenes. Olivia de Havilland was nineteen years old when she made this film. She was flawless even at the beginning of her career. I could not get over how adorable she was from the moment she came on screen. They had a very cute scene where Arabella and Peter go for a horseback ride. He knows she likes him but she will not admit it so he kisses her and then she smacks him. You can definitely see even at the beginning of their paring Flynn and de Havilland had such great chemistry.
            Lionel Atwill is once again the villain-type character and is once again in period costume. He looks terrible in period costume and he would wear the garb again two years later in The Great Garrick.
            Basil Rathbone is in the film for five minutes. He plays a slimy French pirate named Levaisseur who teams up with Captain Blood and his crew for a while until he wants to take Arabella for his own when it is against Blood’s rules. So Peter and Levaisseur battle it out and Peter comes out on top.
            Michael Curtiz made a great film. He gave you a straightforward pirate film without the frills of damsels in distress or artsy camera work. What is more he knew how to get the best out of his actors. Of all the Michael Curtiz films I have seen the actors that starred in them have given some of their best performances.
            Erich Wolfgang Korngold provided the score. The man was a genius. His music is what keeps you gripped to the screen at all times. The score is not over done it is just right.
            Warner Bros. took a big chance on casting a relatively unknown Errol Flynn in a leading film role with lots of adventure and action. They also took a big chance on Olivia de Havilland who had yet to make her mark at the studio. Everything about Captain Blood worked to perfection. It is one of the most entertaining and fun swashbucklers/adventure films to sit through. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

“What happens if you fall in love?”

            (500) Days of Summer when I saw first saw it in theaters restored my faith in the film industry. Here is a film that is so unique, so carefully and wonderfully made that when I saw it I could not believe what I was seeing. I left the theater feeling happy at what had been played before me. The movie is so good and so different that for a while it may boggle your mind.
            Right from the beginning a title card tells us that this is not a typical love story. Yes it is a story of how boy meets girl but instead of the girl being the one who falls head over heels in love and cannot stand to be away from the boy and is heartbroken when they separate it is the boy who goes through those emotions.
            Tom (Joseph Gordon- Levitt) works in a greeting card company when he has a degree in architecture (*hey sounds like me I have a degree in Art History and I have only been able to get retail jobs*). His life is pretty uninspiring and boring until he sees the new office assistant Summer (Zooey Deschanel).
            The movie is not done in chronological order instead it goes through all the highs and lows of Tom’s five hundred days of thinking of Summer. One day we may see them sitting in the park all happy the next it may be after they had fight or Tom realizing that Summer did not love him as much as he loved her.
            There are so many scenes that just make this movie fantastic: Tom is so in love that he imagines himself dancing and singing to “You Make My Dreams” by Hall and Oates; when Summer has broken his heart he goes to see a French movie and he pictures himself in the Avant Garde movie; in the end when he sees Summer after a long at time a party the screen is split into “Expectations and “Reality.” I really like how the movie is so true to how life is. We all have expectations of how a relationship is going to turn out but those are our expectations not the expectations of the other person. We can feel so in love and on cloud nine the one day and a week later we can completely hate the person.
            Joseph Gordon- Levitt and Zooey Deschanel were fabulous together and as their characters. No other actors could have done a better job. Gordon- Levitt really did make you feel sorry for him when Summer broke his heart and we rooted for him as he was falling in love. Summer is not a character that is easy to like since we are being shown the relationship process through Tom’s eyes. She really is kind of a bitch (as my mom and brother so kindly put the character). I really like Deschanel a lot so I am bias when I say she was very good. I have yet to see a role that she plays where she is not good. But I guess I am not the only one who really liked her in the role since this basically launched her career even though she had been in several films before.
            (500) Days of Summer is a movie all film lovers should see because the director took a risk on creating a type of movie that was different from anything that had been released before it in the 2000s decade. The story is just great to sit through because you are not getting bullshitted around and the ending is not all happy and romantic like stupid chick flicks. (500) Days of Summer may not be for everyone (it is very hipster-ish) but for those who truly like movies and really want to see some thought and care go into a modern movie than sit through this one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Red Pony (1949)

John Steinbeck is an author I have never had a desire to read. I do not know why maybe the titles of his stories turn me off. I always found it odd that in my four years in high school I was in Honors English and I never had to read Steinbeck or other authors like J.D. Salinger with odd books. I have never even wanted to sit through a film based off a Steinbeck novel. But I made an exception with The Red Pony only because Myrna Loy and Robert Mitchum were in the lead roles.
            The story takes place in turn of the century California when much of the state was just farm land and rough country. Tom Tiflin lives in this part of the state with his mother Alice (Loy), father Fred, a ranch hand named Billy Buck (Mitchum), and occasionally his grandfather (Louis Calhern).
            Billy is an expert on raising horses, he has been doing so since he was a little boy. One of his horses has a baby and Tom desperately wants his own horse. All the kids at his school tease him saying that Billy could get more money out of selling the horse why would he want to just give his horse away. Billy does give Tom the horse. His parents think it will teach him some responsibility. Every morning before breakfast Tom helps Billy take care of the horse and after school he teaches it commands.
            One day the pony gets out of the barn during a storm and gets really sick. For weeks on end Tom worries over the pony. He even skips school one day just to stay near his pony. Alice and Fred begin to worry that the pony is not really teaching Tom any responsibility.
            Another storm comes around again and the pony yet again gets out. This time the pony is nowhere to be found on the ranch. Billy frantically follows the hoof prints and finds the pony dead in a ditch. He fights off buzzards in a fit of sadness and rage.
            There are other lessons/stories told throughout the film: Fred feels like ever since they have moved to where they are no one is friendly with him everyone calls him Mr. Tiflin when they call Alice by her first name; Alice’s father constantly repeats stories about how he helped bring people across the west and Fred gets fed up with hearing them which makes the grandfather thinks about all the times he tells the stories, all he wants is for someone to realize how important it was what he did.
            I was not too thrilled with The Red Pony. The story was boring. Now I know why I do not read or see stories by John Steinbeck. The only thing I liked was seeing Myrna Loy and Robert Mitchum in color (dear God was her hair red!). Myrna Loy was ok her character was too stiff. Robert Mitchum was alright it felt like he was just there. Louis Calhern always adds to a movie he was so lovable and I felt so bad for him because sometimes the same thing he went through happens to my own grandpa he forgets what he has told us. I can only suggest seeing The Red Pony if you are a fan of Myrna Loy or Robert Mitchum or if you possibly like John Steinbeck but other than that I say skip it.
            Maybe someday I will give in and read one of Steinbeck’s novels I have done things like this before and wound up liking whatever I have read or watched. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Underworld (2003)

“Though I cannot predict the future, the consequences of this night will reverberate through the halls of both great covens for many years to come.”

            Ever since Underworld came out I have wanted to see it. Finally nine years after its initial release I have gotten around to seeing the movie. This has always been one of those movies that looked really cool but was not something I was dying to watch otherwise I would have seen it years ago. A guy friend of mine is in love with Kate Beckinsale and he just bought the first two Underworld movies as well as Van Helsing on Blu-Ray.  We only got around to the first Underworld because I was falling asleep. From the moment the movie started I was not sure how I would like it. I did not really like it but I did not really hate it.
            Selene (Beckinsale) is part of a coven of vampires that has been around for centuries. She is a Death Dealer who keeps an eye out for the Lycans an ancient group of werewolves. They are supposed to be dead when Kraven one of the head vampires had killed their leader. Apparently the Lycans never died out and for the past several centuries Kraven has been in cahoots with the head Lycan Lucien.

            Lucien is looking for the ancestor of this man who was half werewolf half vampire. He has found that person, he is a young doctor named Michael. Selene was supposed to kill him but she sympathizes with him and cannot find it in her to do what she was told.
            As Selene uncovers more about Kraven, her creator Viktor, and Lucien she learns that the world she has known for such a long time is a lie. Now it is up to her to bring down the ones she thought she knew and to destroy an old enemy.
            I think my expectations were too high for this movie. I was expecting the character of Selene to be more kick ass and take-no-shit and I found her to be confident but not as badass as I thought she was going to be. She seemed held back. I guess I was thinking she was going to be a vampire version of Sydney Bristow and I was very wrong. I like Beckinsale as an actress I was expecting to her be really good as this sexy vampire. All the actors and characters kind of annoyed me.
            Underworld was alright. The story was so-so I was not thrilled with it. I was kind of bored with it before all the action started. I think the dull coloring and the dull acting made it boring. But as I said before I am not sure how I feel about Underworld, maybe if I watched it again I might have a better opinion. For the most part though, my expectations were high and in the end I was left feeling let down.