Friday, October 10, 2014
Man, I've watched a lot of movies recently.
To be more accurate, I've watched a few films over the last few months and have not written reviews on most of them. In particular, films on DVD, television and Netflix. I've continued to write reviews to all movies that I see in theaters, but anything else lately has taken a backseat.
So let's fix that with a new section of the blog, Mini-Reviews. I'd like to continue to talk about the movies that I watch, even if it is for a moment. These reviews will be about a paragraph in length and I'll do my best to condense my general feelings into that small space.
We'll begin by taking a look at...
"The H-Man" (1958)
Some people might write this film off as a "The Blob" rip-off, made by the same filmmakers as the Godzilla movies, but then you realize that "The H-Man" was actually released before "The Blob." Ishiro Honda, especially during his early days, had a tendency to combine other film genres with a monster subplot, like with "Rodan" and "The Mysterians." In the case of "The H-Man," it is a gangster movie with monsters that reduce other living creatures to piles of goo running around. As with most Ishiro Honda films, the effects are damn impressive, especially with how they're able to make the monsters move across walls and pipes. It's too bad the story and characters are so forgettable.
Final Grade: B-
"The Picture Of Dorian Gray" (1945)
This film is all over the place. Based off the novel by Oscar Wilde, the film follows a young Dorian Gray, who is extremely youthful for his age and wishes that he could stay that way forever, especially after meeting a wealthy socialite who includes in all sorts of seedy activities. After he gets his portrait taken, Dorian just might get his wish as the painting seems to be magical. This one is basically an updated version of Faust, a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth, except that it finds a way to make the protagonist an even bigger jerk. Dorian takes the socialites words to heart and basically removes his morality along with his soul, leading him to all sorts of diabolical acts over a long time.
Final Grade: C
Life sucks and it will only get worse as you try to help other miserable people. That is apparently the philosophy of "Heat" and its main characters, a famous LA police detective (played by Al Pacino) who has marital problems and a suicidal step-daughter, and a long-time criminal (played by Robert De Niro) who has problems connecting with everybody. Most of the film is spent watching these two work off of each other, as De Niro tries to commit one last grand heist and Pacino tries to stop him. The best scenes of the film are when they face-to-face with one another, especially their first meeting in a restaurant and they discuss their own problems and that they will stop at nothing to meet their goals. It is silent but menacing, showing off the incredible range of acting between Pacino and De Niro. Still, the problem is that the film is far too long for its own good and gets way too caught up with the uninteresting side characters that it gets lost along the way. Though it does lead to a unique final showdown on an airport runway.
Final Grade: B
"Judgment At Nuremberg" (1961)
I walked away with a lot of new thoughts from this film, but the one that resonates with me still is that the Nazis, as evil and terrible as they could have been, were still people. They weren't monsters and they did what they had to for a reason. "Judgment At Nuremberg" is the trail of several former Nazis for their crimes during the regime, but this makes it clear that these men aren't the ones on trail, but all of Germany. We hear testimonies on both sides, and all of them are quite convincing, with the American side bringing up the lives of those effected by the Nazis have panned out, but the German side showing how what they did isn't so different from what the Americans have done. relocating thousands of people based solely on their nationality, medical experiments on the mentally challenged and dropping atomic bombs on innocent people. So in that regard, who is truly more evil? The Germans or the Americans? "Judgment At Nuremberg" is wonderful at taking something like judging Nazis and making it not as clear-cut as one would like to think.
Final Grade: A
"Captains Courageous" (1937)
If this film came out today, it would be critically panned and forgotten within a week. But in 1937, this was something unheard of, and had such an amazing cast that it would be impossible to ignore. Directed by Victor Fleming, who also gave us "Gone With The Wind" and "The Wizard Of Oz," as well as starring Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore and a young Mickey Rooney, this film follows Harvey Cheyne, a spoiled brat of a kid who has every handed to him by his rich father, falls off a cruise ship and is picked up a fisherman and told that they can't take Harvey back to land for three months, so they teach him how to fish and become a man. This type of story has been told time and again and will be told many more times. But the performances and personalities of the fisherman can be fun to watch, especially when competing against other fishing boats. I'd recommend watching this film with subtitles though, as almost all the main characters are difficult to understand with their thick varying accents and the constant sound of waves pounding against the boat.
Final Grade: C+
"Little Caesar" (1931)
There's something about very old gangster films that I admire. Perhaps it is because they were made at a time in Hollywood where there were no restrictions or rules to filmmaking and they could show gruesome violence at its most beautiful. Maybe because the time of the gangster was still in effect while these films were being made, with Prohibition only recently ending as well as the Great Depression. Or it could be because the things we make fun of in gangster films these days are on full display here: Constant backstabbing, fast-talking high-pitched weasels who want to make it big, and as many "Ya' see?!" as you can imagine. If anything, gangster films like "Little Caesar" are a product of their times, but are certainly not for everyone. I respect "Little Caesar" more than I enjoyed it.
Final Grade: C
"Robot & Frank" (2012)
This film, more than most other science fiction films, gets right at the point of whether or not robots can have souls. That living creatures are a collection of thoughts and experiences that they're encountered over their lifetime, and that who we are comes from those experiences. So if a robot learns to not get bullied and can becoming an old man's friend, how is that robot any different from a person? Set in the not-too-distant future, where libraries are no longer needed and robots to help out those who need it are starting to come about, Frank Weld (Frank Langella), a former cat burglar with memory problems, is having a hard time adjusting to this new technological world, especially after his son gets him a robot companion. The robot (who is never named) wants to get Frank into gardening, but Frank has another hobby in mind: Getting back into cat burglary. This is everything a good sci-fi movie should be. It's relevant to the times, still has a sense of heart and wonder about the world, yet can be both funny, dramatic and touching. At times, it does not even feel like a science fiction film, but just a story about an old man who is out to try to have one last adventure in a world that has long since passed him.
Final Grade: A-
What I'll aim to do is continue to view movies on television, DVD and Netflix as I have been recently, and then every month or so I'll do another group of mini-reviews on the movies that I watched. If you like that idea, or completely disagree with it and would like to see full write-ups on these kinds of movies from now on, let me know in the comments below.