Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Ox-Bow Incident

“The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943) directed by William Wellman and starring Henry Fonda, Harry Morgan and Dana Andrews is another masterpiece in the genre of Westerns.  It was filmed almost entirely on a soundstage by the brilliant Arthur C. Miller, who gives us a picture of the old West that is both stark and enlightened at the same time.  This is a morality play, based upon the book by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, that is difficult at best.  There are terrific performances that make this story of prejudice and mob mentality all the more real.  It will devastate you with its honesty.  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"The Master" is an odd film....

“The Master” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Laura Dern is a strange film.  Paul Thomas Anderson makes strange films (“Boogie Nights” “Magnolia” “There Will Be Blood”) most of which I felt were very well done.  ”The Master”, however, for me, is in another league.  And not a good league.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role is a tour de force as usual and will be nominated for many more awards.  Amy Adams, who plays The Master’s wife, shows a new found intensity that I have not seen before.  There are many scenes in the film where we are looking directly into her eyes as she is speaking and it is a scary thing to behold.  Then there’s Joaquin Phoenix.  It is almost impossible to describe his portrayal of the disturbed ex-seaman, Freddie Quill.  You have to see it for yourself.  My feelings upon leaving the theatre at the end of the film were very confused.  What I had just seen was acting at its best but the way the story unfolded left me underwhelmed and actually a little bored.  The connection between The Master and Freddie was not fully explained so it felt forced that The Master would take in someone like Freddie (a violent, amoral man who had stolen onto his boat in a drunken stupor.)  The scenes with the two men are very powerful, indeed.  However, I was left feeling cheated and a little bit played by the manipulation of the director to make us feel something between the men.  Then there are the long scenes of looking at different characters faces that drag the film down and almost bring it to a stop, plus the almost constant sexual references and nudity, which for me were unnecessary.  ”The Master” is an interesting film that I am sure will cause many discussions and arguments over its content.  I am just not sure that it is worth it.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Wickedly Original Film

"Melancholia" is a wickedly original film starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and directed by Lars von Trier.  It is a film filled with beautiful images that tell a story of the end of the world.  It begins with the story of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding day, moves to the story of her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and ends with an arresting vision of the apocalypse.  The film is long but it is irresistible in its character development and scene-setting.  The lush landscapes and gorgeous cinematography help to make the end of the world seem almost welcome.  This is a film I highly recommend - turn out your lights, open your film-loving heart, and watch.
“End of Watch” written and directed by David Ayer, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena is a gritty, real time police drama with lots of heart and wonderful performances.  Jake Gyllenhaal shows his ability to carry a drama, and Michael Pena, as his partner, more than proves his worth as an up and coming actor.  ”End of Watch” is filmed with hand-held cameras, which makes the time in the car, and on the streets of Los Angeles with the two officers, seem alive.  At times you will wish the day with them would just end because it seems so overwhelming and frightening, and yet you cannot stop watching to make sure these two officers make it out of the day alive. Anna Kendrick makes an appearance as Jake Gyllenhaal’s girlfriend but she has little to do except to compliment Jake and to make his life even more real for the audience.  This is a film that is well worth seeing - it’s a welcome change to see a story that seems so real.


“Lawless” directed by John Hillcoat and starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, and Gary Oldman is a good film, but not a great one.  ”Lawless” is based upon the life of the Bondurant brothers as depicted in the book, “The Wettest County in World” written by one of their grandsons, Matt Bondurant.  The Bondurant brothers were actual bootleggers during the depression and this film presents the story amid an atmosphere of hard luck, corruption and poverty.  It is dark and dank, with lead characters who should be despicable but they also demand sympathy at times.  It has family loyalty, young love, friendships that endure, and more violence than you can stand at times.  It is a rough film that is filled with some great performances, especially from Tom Hardy as the oldest Bondurant brother.  Shia LaBeouf also continues to impress with his developing acting skills.  However, the performance that you will remember is from Guy Pearce as the corrupt Special Deputy who goes after the brothers with a vengeance.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

"The Artist" is Why I Love The Movies

If you see one film this holiday season, make it this one.  It is like nothing you've ever seen before (including the old silent films.)  It may be a "silent" picture but it will completely entertain you with it's joy, heart, sorrows, and redemption.  It stars two actors whom I had not had the pleasure of seeing before, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, along with some very familiar faces (John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Miller and a brief appearance by Malcolm MacDowell.)  The story is centered around Jean Dujardin, the quintessential silent film star George Valentin (much like John Gilbert), who is cast aside when the talkies begin production.  Berenice Bejo plays the young ingenue, Peppy Miller, who has a chance meeting with George, dances her way into a part in one of his pictures, and rises to glorious fame as a star in the talkies.  This film is delightful in so many ways and I urge you to see it in a theater.  The magic will be lost when it is downsized to your television (no matter how big it is.)  Go for the feeling of what it must have been like during the silent film era (minus the live orchestra, of course.)  "The Artist" is clever, 100% entertainment, beautiful and winning.  This is why I love the movies.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Class #8 - Robert Ryan

Robert Ryan

[on being listed as one of the screen's all-time best heavies]: "I guess they never saw me in most of my pictures. Still, I've never stopped working so I can't complain."

Most people will remember Robert Ryan from his later pictures where he was usually a heavy or a grizzled old soldier ("The Wild Bunch" "The Dirty Dozen" "The Longest Day") but as you can see from the picture above, he was quite a dashing young man when he started in Hollywood.  His breakout role was in the 1947 film "Crossfire" where he played an anti-Semitic bully, a role that landed him an Oscar nomination.  He continued to work in films until his death in 1973.  He was an actor who brought grit, honesty, intensity and heart to his roles; whether he was in the old West, fighting in WWII or pounding the beat as a cop.  He starred with such legends as John Wayne, Clark Gable, Richard Burton and Spencer Tracy, and more than held his own.  He was a mainstay in Hollywood for 33 years.  Robert Ryan was handsome, convincing and a terrific actor.