Friday, March 6, 2015
Going to try something a bit different this time around. In the past, I've been writing these Mini-Reviews in one or two sittings, waiting until I've watched about eight or nine films and then doing them all at once. With my last batch of reviews, I did write them like that, except for "Philadelphia," which I had watched that night and wrote the review directly after the film.
I felt like my initial thoughts were better represented and my writing was more crisp and to the point. So, for this post of Mini-Reviews, I'll be writing each review individually after each film has finished.
We'll see how well that turns out.
"The Hustler" (1960)
It is easy to see how Paul Newman became such a big star just by watching this film. It is like Newman emulates the rebellion of Marlon Brando but has the suave-ness of Frank Sinatra. He can get away with being a rebel because he looks so cool doing it.
In "The Hustler" we watch Paul Newman roll with the best pool players, hustling them out of their money and gain credit as the greatest poolshark of all time. It's just too bad that the best part of the film ends half an hour in and the movie meanders from that point on.
The beginning of the film is great, as Newman's Fast Eddie battles it out with Jackie Gleason's Minnesota Fats for over 30 hours straight to prove who is the best, neither will to admit defeat or empty out their wallet. After that though, Eddie wanders around trying to find something to do and ends up stumbling into a romance.
"The Hustler" gets good again near the end when George C. Scott's character starts to play a bigger role, and we see Scott give us the passion and intensity that he would become famous for in roles like "Patton" and "Dr. Strangelove." But it is too bad that the middle of the film is so weak compared to the rest of the film.
Final Grade: C+
"Easy Rider" (1969)
Some films do not age well. "Easy Rider" is one of those films.
Granted, I can understand why this one did incredibly well when it came out in 1969. It represented a time in America where teens and young adults wanted to rebuke the status quo of how to live their lives and be free individuals - to grow out their hair, do drugs and go where ever they wanted. In a way, "Easy Rider" is a time capsule back to the 1960s.
But today, "Easy Rider" is far too preachy for its own good, forcing its morals and hippy philosophies down our throats. The journey that Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper take has very little character and no substance to it other than the over the top people that they visit along their journey across America, including stoners living out in the desert who want to make plants, and hillbillies who disapprove of their long hair.
"Easy Rider" was a film that spoke to the counterculture and captured a strange time in America. But in 2015, this film does not hold up anymore. A slow and dull ride with little to latch on to.
Final Grade: C-
"Kramer Vs. Kramer" (1979)
I felt obligated to see "Kramer Vs. Kramer" since it won Best Picture the same year as "Apocalypse Now," one of my favorite films of all time. Going in, I already hated the film, but luckily the hate went away after a while.
It did not go away at first, since the story was about as basic as you could get - Husband and wife get a divorce, wife leaves after husband comes home from a busy night at the office, she can't take the child with her and forcing the husband to decide between raising his son, playing both mother and father, and continuing his New York job. A story told a million times before and will be told a million more times.
But around the halfway point in the film, there is a traumatic moment at the playground with Ted (Dustin Hoffman) and Billy (Justin Henry). And without hesitation, without fear and with complete patience and passion, Ted risks his own life and safety to save his son. This might seem like a minor event, but when pulled off by brilliant actors like Hoffman and Henry, this scene becomes very emotional.
I'd like to say that Hoffman and Meryl Streep (who plays Ted's wife, Joanna) give the best performances in "Kramer Vs. Kramer," but that honor goes to Justin Henry, playing their seven-year old son. Not once does his performance feel like he was being forced to do something by his parents, and even has some tear-jerking moments near the end when he has to choose between his mother or father.
"Kramer Vs. Kramer" works past the bland story and gives us some sentimental performances. Not as good as "Apocalypse Now," but still a good one.
Final Grade: B
In the 41st Century, war, weapons and sex no longer exist, but all of that is threatened when a warring planet gets a hold of an earthling scientists' weapon and it is now up to Jane Fonda to go to this planet run by goo and be sexy even though she doesn't really know what that means.
I can honestly say that I am at a loss for words on this one. "Barbarella" is insane.
Final Grade: C+
"Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog" (2008)
This one might get a longer blog post at a later time, but only because I'm not sure whether to count this as a "movie" since it was made for the internet and is less than an hour-long. By the definition of a film by the American Film Institute, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog" does not count and is just an extended internet video with a rather large budget.
For the sake of this review though, I'll count it as a movie - An energetic, creative short movie with some cheesy performances.
Imagine if Barney Stinson from "How I Met Your Mother" decided to become a super villain and take over the world. Not only are both characters played by Neil Patrick Harris, but both have exaggerated world views and think very highly of themselves, probably more than they should. They both like to break out into song (though every character played by NPH likes to do that) and want to mess with the established preconceptions of what people should do.
In that respect, Dr. Horrible may rub some people the wrong way, but those who know of the eccentric Neil Patrick Harris will love this all the same. Come for evil Barney Stinson, stay for the clever musical numbers.
I'm going to give this a higher grade than I should, because "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog" was made for a website, had a tiny budget compared to any major release and the movie was only 42 minutes. In that respect, it is a miracle this was made and an even bigger achievement that it turned out so well.
Final Grade: A-
"An American Werewolf In London" (1981)
This just might be the most accessible werewolf movie, aside from the original "The Wolf Man," but this one has the added advantage of superior effects and insight into the mind of werewolf. Lon Chaney Jr.'s turn as a werewolf was more of a mystery as to whether he truly was becoming a monster or if it was all in his mind. In "An American Werewolf In London," we ditch the mystery and are given a tragic tale like that of David Cronenberg's "The Fly."
Of course, the standout scene is when we watch David transform into the werewolf, as we watch every agonizing part of his body morph into a beast. But there are also strange and unexplained dream sequences, like when Nazi monsters kill David's family and a degrading corpse talking to David about becoming a werewolf. This gives the film a strange and unpredictable atmosphere where you're not sure what will happen next.
Combine this with the film's sense of humor about the ordeal, including the corpse cracking jokes about being dead, and "An American Werewolf In London" is a great modern-day monster film that pays tribute to the old while adding something new.
Final Grade: B+
Like with "Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman," I can see "Them!" being on an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000." In fact, it was in a way - A movie that feels like a carbon copy of "Them!" was riffed, called "The Beginning Of The End," where giant grasshoppers invade the Chicago area and it is up to a group of scientists and military personnel to stop them.
The difference is that "Them!" has far superior special effects and does not rely on the cheese factor of quirky characters who say strange lines of dialogue. "Them!"'s characters play everything straight and simply do their jobs. The male characters don't look down on the female scientists simply because she's a girl and are willing to suspend blowing up the Los Angeles underground that houses thousands of giant ants because two little kids might still be inside.
This makes "Them!" very straight forward but also to the point and relatable. The effects on the ants is a bit outdated these days but still gets the job done. The movement of the ants is a bit robotic, but it works better when there are several giant ants in the shot.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch "The Beginning Of The End" so I can mock it once again.
Final Grade: B
"The King's Speech" (2011)
This is one of those rare films that expertly blends tragedy and triumph without hammering in one side or the other, and lets both come naturally from the story about a stammering prince who has to take the throne during a time when his people need him the most.
"The King's Speech" is also a rarity in that it is based on true events, but never feels like it is weighed down because of reality. Part of this is because of the likability of the three main characters, the so-to-be-king (Colin Firth), his wife (Helena Boham Carter) and his speech coach (Geoffrey Rush). Each of them acts as part of a greater whole, as Firth possesses the courage, Carter gives each of them heart and purpose and Rush is the motivation and drive. All three bounce off of each other perfectly to create a character dynamic that never gets stale.
While the conflict of Firth becoming king is interesting at times, the best parts of "The King's Speech" comes from the interaction between the leads and the simpler scenes of Rush and Firth discussing his strict father who pushed him too hard as a kid that led to his stammering.
"The King's Speech" is a motivational tale that hits all the right notes and excels at making the simple and mundane so inviting and captivating.
Final Grade: B+
"Nosferatu The Vampyre" (1979)
On a particular level, I respect and appreciate this film. However, it was also incredibly slow and uninteresting.
"Nosferatu The Vampyre" has the same plot as the 1922 silent horror classic, "Nosferatu," the first movie adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. While this Werner Herzog adaptation does have the added benefit of sound and dialogue, the film also takes its time and has many scenes that remain silent, like when the Dracula is onboard the ship and silently killing the crew, or when the towns' people are forced to carry out their coffins. In this respect, the film is similar to Brian De Palma's "Scarface," as the film does its best to pay tribute to an old classic of the same name, while still attempting to add something new to the piece.
"Nosferatu The Vampyre" benefits from its creepy yet effective score, which adds to the ever-expanding atmosphere of creep and uncertainty. The film also uses negative space and has a great contrast of light and darkness, with the best being Dracula appearing out of no where from a darkly lite corridor.
However, the pacing is excruciating slow, as some scenes go on for longer than they need to, like Jonathan's hike up to Dracula's castle and many scenes being intercut with his wife, Lucy, staring out into the ocean. These scenes don't add anything to the film and make me lose interest in the story.
Overall, "Nosferatu The Vampyre" is an interesting film experiment that paid off in cinematography and atmosphere, but not in the pacing and storytelling department. I appreciate what it was attempting to do by adapting a silent adaptation, but I'll take the classic over this any day.
Final Grade: C+