Monday, February 21, 2011

Epic #5 - Spartacus (1960)

I'm sure you've heard his before, but: I am Spartacus. It's true. Spartacus, is, in fact, so awesome that I would be totally willing to claim to be him. He is amazing. This whole movie is really awesome, actually. I would so totally watch Spartacus again. I would buy Spartacus. It's quite awesome. Let me tell you why.

Spartacus is about...Spartacus, a Roman slave who's sold into a Gladiator school (apparently they had those), and then leads a mass revolt and commands an army of slaves against Rome. And then dies. Which is a bummer, but also awesome, because Spartacus is always awesome. I sort of thought that Spartacus was going to be a lot like The Ten Commandments, except with Rome instead of Egypt, and more Gladiators, but it wasn't. I really liked Spartacus. I liked all of the characters, and I liked the romance, and I actually rooted for the main characters. So that's good.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but I really love tag lines. It doesn't matter how good the movie is, the tag line is always silly. It's just a rule. This movie has really awesome silly tag lines. I was more entertained by reading these tag lines than I was by watching Reds. One of the tag lines describes Spartacus as "The thrilling adventure that electrified the world!", exclamation point and all. Another says that "It roars with fierce excitement!", which is totally the phrase I thought of while watching it. It's also "More titanic than any story ever told!" and I do have to give credit where credit is due here: Titanic was in fact more titanic than Spartacus. So good for them there. This last one is actually my favorite, so prepare yourself..."They trained him to kill for their pleasure...but they trained him a little too well..." I think the elipses make it. I love those elipses.

Spartacus is directed by Stanley Kubrick. I have seen Stanley Kubrick movies before, and I was very surprised by how...not weird this movie was. Seriously, there was no bizarre editing, no scenes in complete silence, no sweeping camera angles starting at the ceiling. There was some rather whimsical music. Surprisingly whimsical music, actually, for a movie about gladiators. There was also the single longest marching scene ever, when the Roman army advances on the slave army near the end. I swear this scene was five minutes long. It was just endless marching Roman soldiers.

Watching that scene is a lot like staring at this picture for four minutes.

Spartacus himself is really a lot like Charleton Heston's Moses in The Ten Commandments. There both very classic hero-type heroes. They're very manly and strong and dramatic. I liked Spartacus better than Moses though. Charleton Heston was very dramatic in his acting. The way he delivered his lines sounded a lot like he was dramatically delivering lines, which admittedly he was, but it shouldn't sound like that. When Kirk Douglas (He's Spartacus) delivers his lines, it sounds like Spartacus is a naturally dramatic person. It doesn't sound so much like he was acting. Usually the excessive hero-ness annoys me, but I liked Spartacus. He was very noble and strong and instead of being vaguely impatient with it, I could see why people admire that. Spartacus was a leader. It was very impressive.

In Spartacus, Crassus, the Roman lord in charge of defeating Spartacus, is played by Lawrence Olivier. Yes, not only is Lawrence Olivier The Best Hamlet Ever, he is also Sir Lawrence Olivier. I think that's why this movie is so awesome.

Lawrence Olivier is not the best part of this movie though.

This man is the best part of this movie.

That's Peter Ustinov, and he is awesome. In Spartacus he plays Batiatus, who runs the Gladiator school that Spartacus is sold to. The scenes he's in are some of the best scenes in the movie. He's just so good. You kind of have to watch the movie to know what I'm talking about, but he's great. He steals every single scene he's in. Apparently he actually wrote some of the scenes he's in, which explains why they're so terrific. It gets even better though, because he's been knighted. I know. You can't question knighthood.

Besides Sir Peter Ustinov, the best part of this movie is near the end. Spartacus' army has been defeated by the Roman army (I'm sorry if I'm spoiling this for anyone, but really you should know this, it's ancient history,) and the army says to the slaves, "Hey, if you tell us which one Spartacus is, we won't kill all of you." Faced with this decision, does Spartacus' army give him up? No! Every single one of them stands up and says "I am Spartacus." It is maybe the single most awesome thing I have ever seen. And what does Spartacus do? Spartacus is so touched by this that he allows one single manly tear to run down his face. Because Spartacus is that awesome.

I watched a restored version, and it looks really good. Really sharp and clear. Here's something cool: There's a scene in the middle of the movie that they cut out when the movie was first released, and they put the scene back in for the restoration. The sound had been lost, so they rerecorded it with other people. The person who recorded Lawrence Olivier's lines was Anthony Hopkins. Anthony Hopkins who was also knighted. I think it's obvious what makes this movie so incredible.

In conclusion, I would say that Spartacus is the best movie so far. I really enjoyed Spartacus, and I would totally watch it again. Kudos to you Stanley Kubrick.

Kudos to you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Epic #6 - Titanic (1997)

I know what you're thinking. Yes, Titanic is a terrible movie. Yes, it's maudlin and the favorite movie of a large amount of preteen girls. (And yes, I did get "maudlin" from the thesaurus. It's a synonym for "schmaltzy.") Bizarrely, it's also a very good movie at the same time. It's an enigma. The romance, or the "plot," as they call it these days, sucks. It's ridiculous, and it's just silly. The actual sinking of the Titanic, however, is very, very well done. That is good film making. It almost has the opposite problem as All Quiet on the Western Front. All Quiet on the Western Front had a terrific story and terrible cinemtagrific movie stuff, for lack of a better term. Titanic has fantastic movie stuff, and a terrible story. Let us explore this.

Now, I've actually seen Titanic many times before (It's on TV a lot,) so when writing this post, I was able to focus some brain power on the actual blog itself. So far, my posts have been sort of lack-luster. They lack luster. So I thought, "Hey! Why don't I try a new format?" just exactly like that too, and then I thought: colons. Of course, I should present the movie in list form. It'd be like classic movie trading cards! Who doesn't want those? Let us proceed.

Release Year: 1997. But you knew that.

Director: James Cameron, but I bet you knew that too. His movies are okay, but make a staggering amount of money.

"Actors": Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Oscars: At eleven Oscars each, Titanic and Ben-Hur are tied for the most Oscars ever won by a single movie.

Super-Quick-Summary (The hyphens are absolutely essential): Rose, a rich girl who feels trapped, and Jack, a starving artist who feels free, fall in love on the Titanic, which predictably sinks. Dramatic irony abounds.

Any Knights? (Because, as you know, you can't question knighthood.): Not to my knowledge. Shame.

Anything Laughably Bad?: Oh yes. Most of the acting really is terrible. I feel that if my high school drama club did a production of Titanic, the quality of acting would be about the same. Beyond the awkwardly delivered lines is the awkwardly written script, which you can tell is bad because even the actual actors in the movie don't deliver it well.

Anything Tear-Jerkingly Good?: Yes. That's what's really weird about this movie: It's both very bad and very good at the same time. The little scenes there are during the sinking of the Titanic are so good. When we get away from the ridiculous romance and focus on these other people, it just this wonderful movie. That's when it's really strong. I would like to point out that Titanic is not in the list of greatest romances, but is in the list of greatest epics. I think it's clear that the American Film Institute agrees with me here. AItalics a side note, the combination of the awesomeness of Molly Brown and the awesomeness of Kathy Bates creates an incredible center of concentrated awesome. True story.

Historical Significance: Titanic is probably the most successful movie ever made. If you don't adjust of inflation, the only movie that's ever made more money than it is Avatar. It won eleven Oscars, including Best Picture. It made huge leaps in special effects, it launched Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and it was just a huge movie. It's certainly very epic.

Historical Background: The sinking of the Titanic makes a great story all by itself. The irony of the ship that was billed with much hype as "unsinkable" sinking on it's maiden voyage is incredible. It's especially ironic because of the extent it did sink. You also have the theme of nature conquering man when he thinks he's conquered her, the warning against the dangers of overconfidence, the commentary on the class system, and the commentary on corporate greed. You can't make this kind of stuff up. It is a perfect story. It's no wonder they made a movie about it.

Framing Device?: Yes indeed. A group of undersea explorers search for "The Heart of the Ocean," an off-brand Hope Diamond, in the wreck of the Titanic, and hear the story from a survivor of the disaster, an elderly Rose.

Would I Watch it Again?: Oh, probably. If someone was like "Hey Abby, want to watch Titanic?" I'd be like, "Sure, I don't have anything else to do," but I don't think I'll ever actually seek out Titanic. 'Sokay. Definitely an enigma. Remember that. If anyone ever asks you to describe Titanic, you have to say that, okay. "It's an enigma." Good.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Epic #7 - All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

All Quiet on the Western Front is a WWI movie, directed Lewis Milestone. It's about how unglamorous and dirty and painful war is, and how it's grossly romanticized by people with no experience with it. Saving Private Ryan did show us how terrible war is, but All Quiet on the Western Front is specifically about it. It's an antiwar movie, which was really groundbreaking at the time, that wasn't how you made war movies then. It did win the Oscar for Best Picture that year, so it was successful at the time it was made and really still is, which is a long time for a movie to be well-known.

The actual literal story is about a group of young men who are inspired to enlist in the German army after hearing a rousing speech from their school teacher on the honor and glory of war. When they actually go to war, of course, they discover that it's not as glamorous as it seems from the outside. I didn't actually know there was a main character until about halfway through the movie, which says something about their characterization, but there is, his name is Paul. He's played by Lew Ayres, who apparently was quite successful later, and was decent in this movie. I can't say that I actually got very connected to any of the characters. Something about this movie made it really hard for me to follow. It also actually doesn't have any music behind it at all, which makes the quiet scenes really, really quiet, and there are a surprising amount of quiet scenes in this movie. The actors have to rely on their delivery to put emphasise on pieces of dialogue, rather than the music, and sometimes they fails, which probably contributes to my difficulty in following it.

I actually caught the movie on the Turner Classic Movies channel, which was lucky for me. I was watching a Charlie Chaplin movie I had recorded when the ad for it came on, and the movie was starting on live TV at exactly the time I was watching the recorded advertisement. I attribute this incredible coincidence to the influence of Charlie Chaplin's unquestionable knighthood.

All Quiet on the Western Front is an old movie, and it doesn't quite stand the test of time. It's very 1930s. Something about the whole thing gives of this old movie vibe. If you watch a lot of old movies you know what I'm talking about. It's just something about the way they deliver the lines. More than that though, It's not as good artistically as really any of the other movies I've watched so far. It's like they just pointed the camera at the actors and left it at that. It doesn't really look good, and in a movie, that's important. It's a very visual medium.

I know it sounds like I'm questioning the American Film Institute, but of course I'm not that's not possible. All Quiet on the Western Front is historically significant. It's the first movie to really treat war this way, which is why it ranks how it does. It's a very powerful movie, and it's got a lot of really good scenes; It's a good story. It's just not done significantly well, movie-wise. It's not that effective to watch it. The movie is based on a book, and I'll bet the book is much better. It's about how terrible war is, which is a fine and dandy message I suppose, but it's delivered rather heavy-handedly. There's just slightly too many speeches about it. They show it well enough with the events of the movie, the events are very powerful, and they don't need so many monologues about it.

It does have a very good ending though. The ending is very nice and symbolic and all that, and very famous. I'm sure you're familiar with the hand reaching out of the trenches for a butterfly? Well, that's from this movie. It's very powerful, and I can only wish that it was filmed slightly better.

As a side note, I've always inexplicably confused All Quiet on the Western Front with No Country For Old Men, and I have no idea why. They're completely unrelated movies, it's just the titles I get confused really, it's very strange. Fun Fact there.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Epic #8 - Saving Private Ryan (1998)

War is the worst thing ever. I am completely, utterly convinced of this by watching this movie. Saving Private Ryan is supposed to be among the most accurate war movies out there, and it is brutal, violent and chaotic. Just like real war. War sucks, and the people who fight it deserve all kinds of respect. Saving Private Ryan really demonstrates that.

Saving Private Ryan is a World War II movie, directed by Steven Spielberg. It opens with the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. I've been told that this is one of the best cinematic war scenes ever, and it is very good. I haven't seen very many war movies, so I can't really judge it as compared to other scenes, but on it's own it's obviously very good film making. It's this huge, crowded, chaotic scene, and it's noisy and dirty and people are dying, and within it there are all these tiny little horrible moments. People are picking up there own arms, and people are just avoiding death, and then being killed shortly afterwards. In one section, a group of medics save a soldier and congratulate themselves, only for the soldier to be shot through the head. The whole scene is filled with these kind of moments. We don't even know any characters yet. All we're watching is the warfare; that's all we have to focus on. It ends with a shot of the bodies on the beach, with the ocean with all the blood in it washing over them. It's a very powerful scene.

The Plot: Basically, three brothers from the same family, the Ryans, all die in combat. There's one brother left, Private James Ryan, and they, they being the government, decide to send him home, since all the brothers are dead. Because war isn't very organized, they don't know exactly where he is, so they send out Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks, who sounds distractingly like Woody in this movie,) and a squad of soldiers to find him, including Daniel Faraday from Lost. The major source of conflict in this movie is, obviously, World War II, but conflict also arises from the fact that eight men are being sent out to risk their lives for the life of one man. A huge theme in the movie is making the decision between doing the decent thing, and doing the practical thing. Saving Private Ryan is the decent thing to do, but is incredibly impractical, a lot of people are put in a lot of danger because of it. This is really what the movie is about.
This is movie is made up of definite exciting events, with calmer sort of interludes in between them. Obviously in a movie you need both exciting scenes and calm scenes, but in this movie it's very pronounced. Because this is how most action-y movies are structured, it gives the film a very action-y movie feel. It is a action-y movie of course. It's definitely a war movie, and, beyond the gritty realism, a pretty standard one, judging from the war movies I have seen. It's a very good standard war movie though. After all, the war movie is a tried and trusted genre, and this is certainly a very good movie that treats war with the dignity that it deserves. Well maybe not war itself per say, that's a tricky subject, but definitely the people who fight it. It's ground-breaking in its violent and accurate portrayal of war, and definitely summons up respect for soldiers, but beyond that it's a war movie. Now that I think about it, I have to wonder why our friends at the American Film Institute don't have a list of the best war movies. Seems like an obvious choice, over, say, the oddly specific genre of "Courtroom Drama." Strange.
Saving Private Ryan won five Oscars, including Best Director, but did not win Best Picture. It actually lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love, which is considered one of the greatest award snubs ever. True story.

Saving Private Ryan is, so far, the best movie I've seen through The Project, which is good because that's what's supposed to happen. The Ten Commandments was very "Look we have Technicolor and lots of extras," making it's epic-ness kind of forced, and Reds was, frankly, long and boring. Saving Private Ryan entertained me through the entire film, I enjoyed all of it, it was good film making, and it was just a good movie. It's a very powerful movie made about a very powerful subject matter. You can not question the American Film Institute. It cannot be done. I am not, however, to the point where I would actually seek out the movie to watch it again, which is a shame. Fingers crossed for All Quiet on the Western Front, then.