Sunday, December 16, 2012

Romantic Comedies - A Debriefing.

The American Film Institutes order: #10 - Sleepless in Seattle, #9 - Harold and Maude, #8 - Moonstruck, #7 - Adam's Rib, #6 - When Harry Met Sally, #5 - The Philadelphia Story, #4 - Roman Holiday, #3 - It Happened One Night, #2 - Annie Hall, #1 - City Lights

My order:

#10 - Adam's Rib - Too misogynist, not funny enough
#9 - Sleepless in Seattle - This is not a romance. They don't know each other.
#8 - Roman Holiday - Oh get over yourself. You only knew her for two days, and she was drugged for one of them. Move on.
#7 - The Philadelphia Story - Great cast, but the plot is odd.
#6 - Harold and Maude - Love the dark, odd Harold scenes, and Bud Cort's weirdly proportioned legs, but Maude is a little too hippie for me.
#5 - Moonstruck - The women in this movie are great and self-assured, and I love the romantic Italian atmosphere of it. Nicholas Cage remains a crazy person.
#4 - It Happened One Night - I love when this movie gets all Seinfeldian about piggyback rides and stuff, and I love the dad, surprisingly, but it's missing something. I don't know. Maybe it just needs better sound editing.
#3 - Annie Hall - Woody Allen's terrific, and I love how abstract this movie can get, but it is, admittedly, something you can only watch every once in a while. Little slow. 
#2 - City Lights - This is everything a romance should be, and Charlie Chaplin I swear is the sweetest man I've ever seen, but some of the comic routines like the boxing scene go on a little long for me.
#1 - When Harry Met Sally - This movie is perfect. Nothing is wrong with it.

Up next: Gangster movies.

Romantic Comedy #1 - City Lights (1931)

City Lights is a Charlie Chaplin movie, and honestly the most adorable thing I've ever seen. It stars Charlie Chaplin's Tramp, obviously,although I can't figure out if he's supposed to be homeless or just poor. The Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl, who thinks that he's rich because she heard a car door close when he came up to her. He gets her money to have surgery on her eyes, even though he knows that she'll know he's not rich if she sees him, and then goes to jail for stealing for her. It has an ambiguous, bittersweet ending, because Charlie Chaplin was a troubled man.

It's so cute. This is what people are trying to do when they make romantic comedies, this is the emotion they're trying to create. The Tramp never considers not getting her the surgery to maintain his illusion - He knows that he'll lose her after that, and he's resigned to it. He doesn't want to deceive her, he just loves her. The scene when she realizes who he is sweet and heartbreaking. This is what Charlie Chaplin was really good at - Even though he's well-known for hollow slapstick, he was one of the first film comedians to bring this kind of emotion into his comedies. Granted, he was one of the first film comedians period, but still. My point stands.

Cool thing about Charlie Chaplin - He did everything in his movies - Directed, acted, scored, wrote. And he was crazy. He was supposed to have done one of the scenes 472 time.

I was also very distracted though the whole movie by how spot-on Robert Downey Jr. was in Chaplin. I'm very impressed.

Romantic Comady #2 - Annie Hall (1975)

I'm a big Woody Allen fan, when it's all said and done. I think he's terribly funny - not even just his jokes, really - he himself is very funny to me. I'm also a big fan of how he made this movie. It is, admittedly, a bit slow - that's the 70's for you - but it's got a lot of things going for it. I like the jazz, and I love the simple little titles. The nonlinear storyline is always a classic, of course. I really like my movies to be a little abstract, so I'm a huge, huge fan of the fourth wall-breaking. It's so great, and it just fits in to the movie perfectly, I absolutely love it. I always appreciate a good Truman Capote cameo. I've seen Annie Hall three times now, so by this time I've looked up most of the jokes, and it really is very funny.

I relate to Woody Allen a lot. Not the daughter-marriage part, obviously, and I don't like jazz quite as much as he does, but beyond that his movies speak to me. I've only seen three so far, but I've watched a lot of his stand-up, because I'm cool like that. I consider myself a fairly nervous person, and I like watching other nervous people be funny. It's why I like Finding Nemo.

I recently saw Diane Keaton on The Colbert Report, and I had not realized until then how much she is Annie in real life. I mean - she is a strange lady. She's weird.

Woody Allen originally wanted to call this movie Anhedonia, which is the inability to enjoy one's self, and because I knew that bit of trivia, I got that question right on a psychology test. True story.

Romantic Comedy #3 - It Happened One Night (1934)

I like It Happened One Night. It's got a lot more energy than Roman Holiday, an a much less baffling plot than The Philadelphia Story. It from a time period that you don't see a lot of live-action movies from, and so has a very cartoon-y feel. Claudette Colbert's hair looks Betty Boop-y and everything.

It's interesting to me that this movie has a very similar plot to Roman Holiday - a reporter hangs out with a run-away aristocrat, plans to sell her story, and then falls in love with her. Peter and Ellie are much more charismatic than I-forgot-their-names, though, and the movie doesn't take itself so seriously. It Happened One Night knows that it's sort of a silly movie, probably because it's just a cheap blockbuster, and that makes it much more charming. It allows itself to digress into discussions on donuts and hitchhiking without pretending they mean anymore than amiability between the leads. This movie doesn't treat every little scene as if it were weighted with the romance of the century, and that I think is what makes it so good. I'm of the opinion that a really good romance needs some degree of naturality, to make it both believable and something you can root for. A quality romance is one where the people seem to be actually happy when they're around each other.

I'm surprised by how much younger Clark Gable looks in this movie - it's only five years before Gone With the Wind. It only just struck me that he should be kind of smarmy looking, what with his mustache and his self-righteous chracter roles, but somehow he isn't. That's some charisma for you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Romantic Comedy #4 - Roman Holiday (1953)

I'm going to cut to the chase here - I don't like Roman Holiday. At first I thought that maybe it wasn't good, that there was something wrong with it. But no. I just find it unpleasant.

It's..soppy. Drippy, you know. It takes itself too seriously with all its regal sophistication and its stoicism. Do you know those women who watch old movies and say"Oh, that was the good old days. When people had class, and wore long skirts and didn't swear. Just good old sterile romanticism. They don't make them devoid of feeling or energy like that anymore." I might be paraphrasing a bit there, but you get the picture. This is those women's favorite movie.

I hate it. The more I think about it the more it disgusts me, with it's breezy Italian setting, and it's danced-around romance, and Audrey Hepburn with her pixie cut and her noble dedication to the morale of her people. Gregory Peck just stands around being mildly amused and stony-faces.

Look at this guy here! Look at that Hipster! He's like a time traveler! What am I even supposed to do with this movie?

This movie makes me feel nothing. The characters feel nothing. Nothing but the knowledge that their stoicism makes them better than everyone else. I have no use for this movie or its romantic vespa ride.

I do like the poster though.

Romantic Comedy #5 - The Philadelphia Story (1941)

The more Katharine Hepburn movies I see, the more I realize that I adore her, but can't stand the way her persona was treated in plots. Hepburn - this wonderful, saucy, sophisticated lady who isn't going to take any of your crap - is commonly portrayed as being too controlling and not emotional enough. The plots of her movies very often reveals her contemporaries fear of the "new woman," and emerging (however slowly) gender equality. Katharine Hepburn movies, to me, highlight the very real sexism of the past, and the kind of response that stronger woman got at the time. Hepburn characters are always sexy and desirable, but always relentlessly criticized. I can't comprehend this.

Who in their right mind wouldn't want to be this woman? And yet it was the type she played.

Which brings me to The Philadelphia Story, a remarriage comedy starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and some guy who looks like Clark Gable but, disappointingly, isn't. I like the characters in it, I really do. I think they're interesting. Cary Grant's character is especially intriguing to me. For the whole movie he's painted as this hot-headed, irresponsible jerk, but what we see is a recovering alcoholic who is resigned to the turmoil around him, although he is somewhat bitter. It suggests some off-screen development that none of the other characters are recognizing or acknowledging.After we're told how crazy and aggressive he is, he spends the whole movie playing the only sane man. It's much more complex than I'm accustom to seeing in a 40's screwball comedy. I like the way he interacts with the other characters, too - his seen with a drunken Jimmy Stewart is one of the funniest things I've seen in a while.

What I don't get about The Philadelphia Story is this: Why doesn't she marry Jimmy Stewart? I mean, I do get it, really. The thing with Macaulay was fun and all, but the first marriage had real passion and emotion, and now that Dexter's cleaned up his act, all that's stopping them is Tracy's inability to accept human weakness like addiction and physical abuse, because apparently those are in the same category of reasonability. Tracy just needs to open up and get in touch with her emotions like a normal human woman. One contemporary discussion on this movie said that an actress playing Tracy "won't relate" to her problem of stoicism, but that the men will. Awesome.

Of course, I think this is a silly thing for the movie to be trying to tell us. Dexter and Tracy are obviously both decent people who bring out the worst in each other. They should not get remarried. I do get the divorce comedy, but I don't like it - I think it's a silly and unrealistic reaction to the changing social statuses of the day. She should have married Jimmy Stewart.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Romantic Comedy #6 - When Harry Met Sally (1989)

When Harry Met Sally is perfect, and I will fight anyone who tries to argue otherwise. I love this movie. You could approach me at pretty much any time and I will be willing to watch When Harry Met Sally with you. That is a true story.

When Harry Met Sally is concerned with a specific question - Can men and women be friends? The answer it arrives at: No. They cannot. That, admittedly, is a little bit odd to me - It says very strange things about the nature of relationships - but I'm willing to overlook that oddity in the face of such overwhelming quality.

When Harry Met Sally has dialogue that sounds like things that real people might say. Harry and Sally's romance is based on actual interaction and qualities of each other that they enjoy, not some intangible feeling of magic. It's funny. It develops it's characters through their conversations and interactions with each other, but not through heavy-handed metaphors like the romance movie motif of Sleepless in Seattle. Billy Crystal is wonderful and charismatic, and Meg Ryan is relatable and real and oh it's just all so wonderful. There's just nothing wrong with this movie. I enjoy watching it, I don't feel like I have to sit through it. The characters feel like real people with believable flaws - Harry's cynical and thinks he's smarter than he is, Sally's structure allows her to push away her feelings. It's a story, and believable, and it's everything a romantic comedy should be.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Romantic Comedy #7 - Adam's Rib (1949)

Adam's Rib is frustrating to me. It's a Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn movie, so it should be fun. It should be charming. It should be funny. It is not. It's about women's rights and gender roles in marriages - They're a married couple of lawyers who take opposite sides of the same case - and it's not fun to watch. This movie is exhausting - I'm still not sure who they want us to agree with. Spencer Tracy is right about the law, but Katherine Hepburn is just doing her job as a lawyer. Of course she's going to try to win. I have a concerning suspicion that I disagree with the conclusions that this movie makes, which is never a good time.

It's not even funny, either. I don't remember any specific jokes from it at all. It was just this boring gray movie about an argument that I didn't want to see a movie about. This movie has not aged well for me: The issue is whether or not women should be treated equally under the law - they actually debate this - and whether the "Unwritten Rule," about being able to kill your spouse's lover, is just. These are not compelling issues for me here in 2012. The answers are yes and no. There, I solved it. I did not need to devote 90 minutes to that. And, on top of all this, the poster is the November page of my calender right now. Thanks calender, mock me why don't you?

Cool fact about it, though: The woman who wrote the script played Maude in Harold and Maude. So there's that I guess.

Romantic Comedy #8 - Moonstruck (1987)

Moonstruck is, so far, the surprise hit of the genre. I really didn't think I was going to like it for whatever reason, and I was all prepared for a disappointment, but in the end it was really enjoyable.

If there's one thing that'll ruin a romance for me, it's soppiness, and things like Sleepless and Seattle are soppy. Moonstruck isn't soppy. It still discusses love and magic, there's a big moon motif and a man who roams the streets of New York with five dogs, and it has a soundtrack of classic Italian music. It should feel silly and schmaltzy, but it doesn't. It feels very unembellished and real, and sweet.

The best thing about this movie to me is probably the women in it. They're played by Cher and Olympia Dukakis, and they're so matter-of-fact and practical, but they also care about romance. It's just wonderful, I loved it so much. Nicholas Cage is there too, and he's...crazy, mostly, but that works out just fine.

This is just my kind of romantic comedy. It's still romantic, but in a very practical way. It's been my favorite movie in the genre so far.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Romantic Comedy #9 - Harold and Maude (1971)

If there's one thing I can say for the 70's, it's this: Their dramas are as boring as paint, but they do churn out some pretty good dry comedies. And if there's one thing that I'm pretty sure I like, it's a dry comedy.

Pretty sure is, of course, the key phrase here. I'm just not totally certain about how I feel about this movie. There are lots of things that I love about it, and a lot of things I could do without. It comes down to this - I love the Harold parts, and am a little shaky about the Maude parts.

Harold is great. It's quirky and dark and stylized. Bud Cort is built like a Tim Burton character - I'm obsessed with how long his legs are. I love his mother's reaction and all of his dates. All of the sections with Harold are great dry comedy, and I really like them because I love the mood and the visuals and the cars.

The Maude parts are just too late sixties to me. They're all spiritual and flowery and against the man. There's just one to many montages of them driving through fields for me. It's boring and sugary in a hippie way. I do not like Maude.

Ultimately, though, I like this movie. The romance is interesting, and I like the dark quirkiness of it. It's just that to me it's a little too hippie-esque. I don't need to see anyone rage against the man. That's silly.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Romantic Comedy #10 - Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Sleepless in Seattle is a strange movie to me. Maybe it's just that I don't get it? It's just not a romance - They don't even meet until the end! (Spoilers) I appreciate that it's an unconventional romance, and that's nice, but it just seems really shallow to me with out them ever meeting. It's not really a romance you can actually root for - there's no way I can ship Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in this movie because I don't know how they interact.

There are other things that do work about this movie for me - I like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. I like the discussion about the nature of romantic comedies, and it's nice that they put Cary Grant in the movie. I did like the climax at the Empire State building. I didn't like the kid at all.

I actually thought Walter was not that bad a romantic option - It's not his fault he has allergies and a mild manner. I'm told this is a generational thing. The whole movie is actually sort of oddly dated. The discussions about the differences between men and women was pretty unrelatable to me - what they expected of men isn't at all what I would expect today.

So much of this movie is about "magic" and "sparks" and it's just doesn't have a theme that I enjoy or find interesting to explore. It seems very...silly. Also, Meg Ryan is totally a stalker in this movie. That's not love. That's obsession.

Sleepless and Seattle is the only movie in this genre that I was sort of worried about, and it turned out to be not that spectacular after all. Terrible? No, but "it's not terrible" isn't really a compliment.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Genre #8 - Romantic Comedies

I have to admit that at this point I'm a little disappointed with the American Film Institute. I was not very impressed with the Western genre. There were some really awful movies tucked away in there, and that really upsets me, especially since there are so many notable Westerns they didn't include. In fact, if you had asked me to name a Western before this, I don't think I would have said a single one of these. I would have said True Grit. The Good the Bad and the Ugly. How the West was Won. Once Upon a Time in the West. A Fist Full of Dollars. I certainly never would have said McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and really still wouldn't. I was very disappointed that I didn't get to watch a single Spaghetti Western, especially after having seen Clint Eastwood's performance in Unforgiven. It's an important genre that they seemed to have entirely skipped. Shame.

I have higher hopes for the Romantic Comedies though - It seems like a good mix and I get to watch a Charlie Chaplin movie. I always did like a good Romantic Comedy, so this should be a good time.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Genre #7 - Westerns (A Debriefing)

The American film Institute's list goes like this: #10 - Cat Ballou, #9 - Stagecoach, #8 - McCabe and Mrs. Miller, #7 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, #6 - The Wild Bunch, #5 - Red River, #4 -Unforgiven, #3 - Shane, #2 - High Noon, #1 - The Searchers.

Here's my list:

#10 - McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1969) - My goodness was this movie painful. I literally fast forwarded through parts and didn't miss a thing because they were just shots of people walking to places. There was nothing that made an extended action interesting or engaging. This is one of the least entertaining movies I've ever seen.

#9 - The Wild Bunch (1969) - This is just a hair better than McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I barely remember it, it was a chore to get through and also about the darkness within. Note: They're made in the same year.

#8 - Shane (1953) - Shane wasn't filmed well and the acting wasn't any good and just dragged on and on. I really didn't notice anything in it that made it stand out as good to me. The only great thing that came out of it is an imitation of the whiny kid in it. "Shane..."

#7 - High Noon (1952) - I like the Cold War allegory and the fact that this movie is in real time, but the climax totally ruins it for me. There's all this build up and then a sudden, practically unopposed shooting. I was extremely unsatisfied with the end. It should be noted that I very well could be totally missing teh point and that the anticlimax was totally intentional.

#6 - Red River (1948) - I like the tragic figure that John Wayne plays here and I like the story and the shots of cattle, but I can't stand the shoehorned-in romance, even though I get that Matt is breaking the cycle of moral decay by not making the same mistakes his father did.

#5 - Cat Ballou (1965) - Technically Red River is probably a better movie than Cat Ballou, but Cat is just so fantastic. I think this movie is funny and charming and very 60's. I like Jane Fonda in it, since I missed that period where she was awful, and Lee Marvin is amazing. The best part of this movie is the great chorus - They're what pushes it over the edge into memorable. And I can't get their song out of my head.

#4 - Stagecoach (1939) - I really like a character piece, and this is a great one. Everyone's wonderfully developed or at least entertaining. John Wayne is charming and I like that this movie states that redemption is possible, instead of futile. I like this surprisingly current-sounding speech from the banker:

"I don't know what the government is coming to. Instead of protecting businessmen, it pokes its nose into business...I have a slogan that should be blazoned on every newspaper in this country: America for the Americans! The government must not interfere with business! Reduce taxes! Our national debt is something shocking. Over one billion dollars a year! What this country needs is a businessman for president"

This was written in 1939. Some things never change, huh?

#3 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) - This was a wonderful, wonderful movie. Robert Redford and Paul Newman are charming and it's funny and I liked watching every minute of it. The guy who plays Lurch is in this movie - As in, from The Addams Family. You can't beat that. I really like the tone of this movie and I liked the jokes and the storyline, even though it does get "Raindrops are Falling on My Head" stuck in my head.

#2 - The Searchers (1956) - I really like the secondary characters in this movie, and there are a lot of very strong comedic parts, believe it or not. I also liked John Wayne in it, the cinematography, and the scenery. I thought the Indians and the Mexicans in it were silly though, and it had a little too much melodrama in it acting-wise for it to be really believable at all.

#1 - Unforgiven (1992) - This movie is all kinds of awesome. The acting's great, every single one of the characters is compelling and entertaining, the story's all amazing, and Morgan Freeman is in it. And that's awesome. This movie makes me want to watch ever single Spaghetti Western ever. If someone asked me if I wanted to watch Unforgiven right now I would absolutely say yes, and that is a sign of a good movie.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Western #1 - The Searcher (1956)

The Searchers is another John Wayne movie, I had it from a very good source that it was awful. It turns out that after all those years it's not, really. It's a fun, engaging movie. It's apparently often considered one of the best movies ever made though, and I don't see that. It's about racism, the darkness within (this seems to be a very common Western motif) and Monument Valley, and while I do think it's a strong movie, I don't find anything about it stunning of anything.

There are a couple of things that bother me about this movie: First, even though it's about how racism is bad, it has the most ridiculous portrayals of Mexicans and Native Americans in the entire list. It's not even the oldest. All of the Mexicans wear sombreros all the time, and the main Native American is played by a German guy. It's awful.

Second, the tone of this movie is very confusing to me. It really suffers from mood whiplash in a bad way to me. There's so much silly content in this movie that makes the serious stuff seem kind of strange. Honestly I think most of the silliness is stronger than the seriousness. Maybe it's because I didn't connect with John Wayne enough, but silly characters like Laurie and Charlie were some of the best parts of the movie. This actually isn't bad, because silliness has just as much merit as anything else, but it isn't what other people remember about the movie, which is strange to me.

And lastly, Scar is a really stupid name for your villain. When I hear Scar I think this:

 I know it's not The Searchers' fault they named a lion that, but my point is that Scar is a very cartoony villain name.

I do really like this movie though. John Wayne is great, there are a lot of characters I really like - Laurie, Martin, Laurie's dad, Charlie, the list goes on. The characters are really an extremely strong point in this movie. I like the plot with Debbie and her assimilation, and I like the shot of the desert through the door. It's interesting to me that three movies in this genre, The Searchers, Unforgiven and Shane, make the point that violent, dark men can't be a part of regular society with everyone else, even if they try to reform. Actually, Butch Cassidy sort of has that too. Notably, Red River has the opposite message, for reform. Interesting.

My favorite part of this movie is the clip they play in The Great Movie Ride in Disney World - "No you don't Ethan! ETHAN, NO YOU DON'T!" It's great.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Western #2 - High Noon (1952)

I was extremely disappointed with High Noon. You see, it's at twelve o'clock the train rolls in, and today outlaw Frank Miller is on it, and he's got a beef with Marshal Will Kane. I thought this was the movie with the big standoff at either end of the street with the music that goes "AEEEIIIIEEEAAA WOWWOWWOW." But it isn't that's The Good the Bad and the Ugly, as it turns out. In this movie Will sneaks up behind Frank and shots him. See that thing on the poster? That never happens. Think about that - the whole movie, through all that buildup, I was expecting a real standoff, and I get that.  It was extremely disappointing.

There are several good things about this movie. It's in real time, which is cool. Scarlett O'Hara's dad is in it, also cool. It's about the Cold War (crazy, right? Have you noticed that almost every single serious movie made from the 40's to the 70's is about the Cold War?). Specifically, it's about how everyone just abandoned the people who were being examined by the House of Un-American Activities Commitee. Which is also cool.

But what gets to me is how anticlimactic the ends is. There's this huge amount of suspense and buildup and then not even a real showdown? No real confrontation? Nothing exciting? It's very, very disappointing. It ruined the whole movie for me. Makes the whole thing seem kind of pointless.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Western #3 - Shane (1953)

Shane is a strange movie to me. It's not very well acted - just about everyone sounds like they're reding lines in an attempt to memorize them, rather than express human emotion. It definitely wasn't well-filmed, the camera was just pointed at the action and the technicolor did it no favors. And yet, there is apparently an actual complex story hidden under all this mediocre execution. People love this movie. People study this story - This story has Sparknotes, people. Clearly someone sees some quality in it.

Shane is about the commitment and devotion of the average American farmer, of the Homesteaders, and the violence that surrounds them and infects them. Shane represents the dark violence of the West and is cursed to drift forever because of his bloody past. He can't repent or settle down, because the guns have to leave the valley if anyone is going top live. It is very difficult to find that meaning in the film. The overall lack of quality in the execution of this movie is hard to get over. It is not well done. You may cite a difference in the style of the filming at the time, but I present to you such evidence as even Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, made in the same year. This silly Marylin Monroe vehicle provides much better cinematography and miles better acting. Actual art went into that movie. Shane has no excuse.

This is one of those movies that makes me think, "The book must be great." The stories a fine one, but the film does not do it justice for me. And why did nobody notice that the kid was cross-eyed during casting? Really.

Western #4 - Unforgiven (1992)

Unforgiven is another Western deconstruction, staring Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. It's about how the bloodshed caused by gunslingers, and by extension all bloodshed and violence, can't be made up for or forgotten. Will Munny is a retired hired gun, but when he goes in for one last job he proves that he is, in fact, unforgiven for his previous life. See? Makes sense. Interestingly, Shane has the same themes, but Shane is terrible and Unforgiven is not. Unforgiven is great. Morgan Freeman's in it and everything - There's not much more you can ask for.

Unforgiven really is probably the best movie I've seen so far in the Westerns. It knew what it was trying to say and it said it, all the characters were nuanced and watchable, the was some humor, which I like, and the cinematography was great and it wasn't boring. This movie is nearly three hours long but it didn't seem like it at all. It just zipped by.

I liked when the writer would introduce himself and people would say, "What, of letters and such?" That's great, I'll say that all the time.

The funny thing about this movie is that nobody's wrong - Or rather, everybody's wrong. We're not really on anybody's side is the point. You sort of root for everyone, even they're opposing each other. Part of the point of the movie that nobody's justified and that violence and justice are complicated things with two sides, and that Westerns and the culture that embraces Westerns forget that.

Also, the poster is really, really cool.

Western #7 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

This movie was not what I was expecting. It's written William Goldman, the same guy who wrote The Princess Bride, and that's really the best thing I have to compare it to. They both sort of have a similar tone, although Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid leans more toward the serious, especially toward the end.  Paul Newman and Robert Redford are famous bandits and their just so charsmatic and humorous that everyone likes them anyway. They reach the end of the line, however, when a railroad owner hires a posse to kill them. They flee to Bolivia and continue to rob banks there.

I really liked this. I thought it was funny, it was pleasant to watch, it wasn't mind-numbingly boring. (Yay!) It was actually hilarious, really. It lost me a little bit in the second half, which contained a few too many silent montages for my taste, but overall it was one of the best movies in the genre. I know that Robert Redford likes it - He named a film festival after his character in it. I am assured that I now need to see The Sting.

Interestingly, this movie is where "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" comes from. You know, the song. If you're wondering how that song fits into a Western: It doesn't. It's a very strange scene. There's a bike. This is also the movie with the shot of two guys jumping off a cliff in it. You would recognize it, trust me.

Not very many of the Westerns on the list are just straight Westerns. Many a deconstructions, and two, including this one, are comedies. That says something about Westerns, doesn't it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Western #5 - Red River (1948)

Red River is a John Wayne movie about a cattle drive and it wasn't terrible, actually. I kind of liked it. John Wayne plays this tragic hero-type character and Montgomery Clift is his adopted son, and there's some themes about loyalty and making the same mistakes generation after generation and that sort of thing. It is a western and a half it is. Lot's of choir in the background and completely unnecessary narration. It's not actually narration, though - they've written it down, and just filmed the text. I did not care for it. It was the only thing that struck me as, you know, stupid, so I thought the film stood up well.

So far I'm liking John Wayne. He was charming in Stagecoach, and here he played a very complex, largely unsympathetic character. I'm impressed.

Most of the cast of the movie was good, actually. There were characters I could tell apart and liked and there were cowboys who flirted with each other (This is apparently a common motif). It was great.

There was also a cattle stampede, and since the movie was made in 48,m I suspect they filmed it by provoking an actual heard of cattle to actually stampede. For art.

Western #6 - The Wild Bunch (1969)

I know a lot of this genre has included complaining about 70's film making techniques, but there seems to have been a neo-western movement then, so it is inevitable. If someone tells you that they really like films from the 70's, do not be friends with them, because they are boring. The Wild Bunch is technically from the 60's, but all the hallmarks from the next decade are already showing up. It was long, and quiet, and contained a lot of untranslated Spanish (Surprisingly common in Westerns.)

I don't remember much about The Wild Bunch, and I only watched it a few days ago, so that's not good. I know it was about a gang of outlaws and how inherently corrupt the world is. The ending actually wasn't that bad - The Wild Bunch all got together to fight the evil of the world in one last daring rescue mission. Of course it's futile and they die, but it was sort of rousing.

William Holden was in it, which was funny because I only know him as the other guy from Sabrina. So there's that.

I also have never seen an exciting train robbery. Not once. Not in Firefly, not in Cat Ballou, not in The Wild Bunch. It always goes too smoothly. Very frustrating.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Western #8 - McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

I could live a thousand years and still not understand the 70's fascination with filming everything in real time. It baffles me. What do we gain by watching that man walk from is car through the street and into the building. Nothing. We gain nothing. We don't learn anything about him or his quest or his character. It doesn't help the movie at all, ever. Not even in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I will stand by that opinion. That movie is too long. 

But it's all over the seventies. All over it, I say. Who started this? Was it Andy Warhol? It was, wasn't it? Why were people okay with this? Why are they still okay with it? People all over the Internet talk about these movies and they say "Oh, he's such an unusual and exciting character," and "Oh, it subverts typical Western tropes," and here I am and I can sort of remember that happening in the movie, but I didn't connect with it emotionally at all. I don't see how people do at all.

I say that the seventies aren't exactly a golden age of cinema. If someone wants you to watch s movie made in the seventies and it isn't Star Wars, say no. You won't regret it, honestly.

The point is, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is about a crook and a madam who start a brothel and then...Die? I don't know. It sounds exciting, or at least interesting, but it's not. It's a long, slow, boring look at northern California, and this same 70's folk song plays through literally through the whole movie. It's awful.

Western #9 - Stagecoach (1939)

Stagecoach, as it turns out, is exactly the type of movie I like. It's a very character driven, ensemble cast-style film, and that's my favorite type of story. I'm not big on the plot driven stories, hence my dislike of hard science fiction and mysteries, and I usually enjoy dialogue driven stuff, like a sixties comedy or an Aaron Sorkin work, but the character stuff is my favorite, which is why I like detective stories and The Avengers.

The plot of Stagecoach really just doesn't matter - It's about a group of people, traveling by stagecoach, moving through a dangerous part of the West. They have to move through Indian territory (It seems silly to refer to them as Native Americans if they're just going to be portrayed like that) and will probably die. The cast consists of the stagecoach driver, a Marshal for protection, an alcoholic doctor, a corrupt Republican banker, a Confederate Army veteran, a pregnant officer's wife, a "Soiled Dove," a whisky salesman, and an outlaw - That's John Wayne.

It's great. The whole story is about how the other characters relate to each other and what they learn and all the characters are great and interesting. I was actually sad when I thought one of them was dead and everything. This is John Wayne's first major movie role ever, and the first time I've seen him in everything, and I was impressed. I thought he was charming.

I really liked this movie, which is no surprise because it's the sort of movie I would normally like. I would absolutely watch it again if given the chance.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Western #10 - Cat Ballou (1965)

I have never heard of Cat Ballou before, and I frankly think that's a terrible crime. It isn't actually a straight western - it's a parody. It's sort of like Blazing Saddles a little bit, except not really. It's got Jane Fonda and Lee Martin in it and it's awesome. I really can't  believe that this isn't a cult classic. I feel like people everywhere should have been telling me to watch Cat Ballou from the very beginning. I'm mystified by this movie's relative obscurity.

Jane Fonda plays an outlaw, since her father got killed because he wouldn't give up his land and Lee Martin is a drunken washed-up gunslinger. They also have a gang including a farm hand, a sex maniac, and an uncle. And the best horse actor in history. It all comes together very well for me. Largely, it's very funny.

Probably the most memorable part of this movie is the Greek Chorus, played by Nat "King" Cole and Stubby Kay. They stand around and play banjos and sing directly into the camera about what's going on. It's awesome. I admittedly first saw this referenced on an episode of Hannah Montana, and had no idea what it was supposed to be at the time, but now it's obvious. They really make the movie for me, actually. Something about their presence makes the movie rise up from its 60's-style slapstick and be remembered.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Genre #7 - Westerns

I don't think I've ever seen a single Western in my life - I'm kind of looking forward to it. There should be horses, and smoking, and hats and guns. There better be, darn it. I'll be extremely disappointed, obviously.

Genre #6 - Courtroom Dramas - A Debriefing

Here's the order The American Film Institute puts the movies in: #10 - Judgements at Nuremberg, #9 - A Cry in the Dark, #8 - In Cold Blood, #7 - Anatomy of a Murder, #6 - Witness for the Prosecution, #5 - A Few Good Men, #4 - The Verdict, #3 - Kramer Vs Kramer, #2 - 12 Angry Men, and #1 - To Kill a Mockingbird.

Here's My Order:

#10 - The Verdict (1982) - I can't think of anything good about this movie. It was boring, the way it was filmed was alienating, I don't remember it at all. Surprisingly, not from the 70's.

#9 - A Cry in the Dark (1988) - All the flaws of The Verdict, but at least it has the delivery of "A dingo ate my baby."

#8 - Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) - It didn't really stick with me very much, and it lags in bits, but it did raise a lot of valid ethical questions, and that makes for a good movie.

#7 - Witness for the Prosecution (1958) - I was very entertained by this movie. I liked the lack of romance, the old British protagonist the very Christie plot, the humorous banter. It was a fun movie to watch.

#6 - Anatomy of a Murder (1959) - I really like Jimmy Stewart,l I love the Michigan setting, and the story is great. You're legitimately not certain what's true or not. My favorite part of this movie is the soundtrack - It's the first mainstream movie not about jazz to have an all-jazz score. I wonder if it's because it's set in Michigan?

#5 - In Cold Blood (1967) - I've read the book and I love Truman Capote's prose style, and I really like the very 60's aesthetic of the movie - It's like murderous, poverty-stricken Mad Men. This is a great character study of the murderers, and it was actually filmed in the house were the murders toke place in reality, which seems in poor taste to me, but whatever.

#4 - A Few Good Men (1992) - Great cast, really really great script, and probably my favorite film on the list, if not necessarily the best. I would watch this movie over and over again.

#3 - Kramer Vs Kramer (1979) - Despite being made in the 70's, this is stiff competition for A Few Good Men as my favorite, probably mostly because of Dustin Hoffman. I really like the message and the actual film itself, even though Meryl Streep is super creepy in it.

#2 - 12 Angry Men (1957) - I like how stylized this movie is, and it's got all these great characters (Twelve, actually) that you remember for a long time, and the guy who plays Piglet is in it (He's also a poker buddy of the Odd Couple, fun fact), and it's against prejudice, which is great because I'm against prejudice.

#1 - To Kill a Mockingbird (1963) - It's just an American classic, you know? Atticus Finch is who we all look up to, or should look up to, and it's still also about growing up and childhood, and prejudice and empathy. It packs a lot in there, but it doesn't feel forced. The kids in it are great, and it has Gregory Peck. Which is great.

Courtroom Drama #1 - To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)

I've read this book in school, of course. I like it - It's about a Southern lawyer, Atticus Finch, who defends a black man who's been accused of raping a white woman. It's also a coming of age story for Atticus' daughter Scout, the narrator. It's one of the Great American Novels. The whole movie has a sort of lazy, heat of summer feel, and there's also a theme about having empathy for people, and not hurting innocent things. It's a classic.

Gregory Peck is really well-known for this role. I always thought that he didn't seem all that much like Atticus, apparently Harper Lee herself loved it, so I suppose I'm alone there. Something's that great to me about this movie is how much people love Atticus. The American Film Institute has a list of the greatest heros in American film, and Atticus is number one - Just ahead of James Bond and Indiana Jones. There's something terrific about that to me. Atticus isn't fighting Nazis or Communists, he's just a regular, stoic guy who's doing the right thing even though he can't win and it causes trouble for him. I love that that's the kind of guy people idolize.

I also want to point out that I've been to Monroeville, Alabama, which is the town that the town in the movie is based on, and that childhood friends Truman Capote and Harper Lee both have works that ended up on this list. Fun fact.

Courtroom Drama #2 - 12 Angry Men (1957)

I've actually seen this movie before, and read the play. I like it. It's about prejudice and the justice system and it's a very stylized movie. Most of it takes place in one room and in real time, and none of the characters have names. They're just Number 8 and 6 and so on. The 12 angry men are a jury, and they're on an apparently open-and-shut murder case with a death sentence hanging over it. All of the jurors are convinced that the accused is guilty except for one, Juror #8, who thinks that they should at least just talk about it for a while.

The rest of the movie is just people talking to each other, about the case and racism and the concept of reasonable doubt. It's a very, very character driven piece - It must be a great play to be in. The power that this movie has is really incredible when you look at how it's made - It's just twelve guys with no names in a room. It's even more incredible than A Few Good Men (It has more men in its title, for one thing). You can totally tell all of the characters are coming from and what we're supposed to think about them, and all they really talk about is the one case. It's great writing.

And the guy who plays Piglet is in it. As it turns out, he uses his natural voice for that role.

Courtroom Drama #3 - Kramer Vs Kramer (1979)

This project has taught me many things: There's no movie that won't benefit from Jack Nicholson. They stopped making good mysteries in 1959. Stories that take place in the Middle East never last less than three hours. But the most important lesson that I will take for this endeavor is this: You can always rely on a movie made in the 70's to be unwatchably boring.

Which is why I was surprised to find that this movie, was awesome. I think it's probably the influence of Dustin Hoffman here. I'd only seen him before in All the President's Men, but he pops up a lot in the remaining movies (roughly seventy, by the way.) He's amazing. He carries the brunt of the story here - Most of the time we're watching him by himself or with a little kid - and he just makes the whole movie great. He even makes up for the typical 70's movie maneuver of not using music. He can handle a silent scene. He also has great hair.

Kramer Vs. Kramer is about a man whose life leaves him and their young son. He and his son bond and build a life together. Then, his ex-wife decides that she wants the child back, and they get into a custody battle over him. The thing is is that we want the son to stay with Dustin Hofman, but we know that's not going to happen because it's 1979. It's all very sad. The movie's really about gender roles and how they relate to parenting (They don't) and I thought it was very touching.

Meryl Streep was also in it. She was nominated for an Oscar for it. Obviously.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Courtroom Drama #4 - The Verdict (1982)

This movie was boring. That's pretty much all I remember about it. I know that the lawyer's an alcoholic and the case is about medical malpractice, and I think they won, but I actually don't remember. I do remember that one of their witnesses is a doctor but he's black, and that's bad for the case. I was surprised that that would still be the case in 1982.

The filming style was very seventies - No background music at all, very long takes and scenes where nothing really happens. It was also very gray. I almost felt that I was watching this movie second-hand - like I was watching someone watch it in another movie. I just didn't get into at all, and when I compare it to a movie like a A Few Good Men, I was just totally unconnected to it. When I remember A Few Good Men, I remember the universe of the movie, but when I think of The Verdict, I remember watching the movie. It was just so boring.

Courtroom Drama #5 - A Few Good Men (1992)

Much like Witness for the Prosecution, I did not want to watch this movie. I put it off for a long time, and I didn't think I would like it, but then...the credits. Oh, Rob Reiner I said. Well that's nice. And then Aaron Sorkin came up - Aaron Sorkin. And everything started to look more promising. And the actors: Jack Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Christopher Guest - How could this movie not be awesome? And it was everything the credits promised.

The story is about a hazing ritual and Military culture. Tom Cruise is a lawyer in the Navy and he has to defend two Marines who accidentally killed another Marine because Jack Nicholson told him to and Demi Moore is also there. And she's great. The story is very very dialogue driven, because Aaron Sorkin wrote it, and the ending scene is just so intense and engaging, and it's just people talking to each other. It was probably the best courtroom scene I've seen in the entire genre, and it gets all of its emotion and excitement from then great acting and the great dialogue.

The whole movie came as a surprise attack of quality to me. Jack Nicholson is always great and creepy (And this has to be the fifth or sixth time we've seen him by now), and I was entertained the whole time and I cared about the outcome of the case. I was so, so glad that it didn't really have a romance in it in the end, and more than anything, I actually enjoyed watching it. I would watch it again, even. This movie was good entertainment.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Courtroom Drama #6 - Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

So I put this one off for a long time, but that really turned out to be a mistake - This was probably the most light-hearted movie I'm going to see on this list. It looks very sensational on the poster, but don't be fooled - It's really a sort of mystery dramedy British thing. It's a Billy Wilder-directed Agatha Christie movie, and it's fun. It's about the mystery - a murder, obviously - and about the escapades of the...District Attorney, maybe? I don't know what his job is, but he's a lawyer. He just had a heart attack, and he's this mean British guy, which means that he's definitely not the DA, because they don't have those in Britain (I assume), but that doesn't really matter. He's important, and he's defending the accused murderer. He's also Charles Laughton - Just so you're picturing this right.

The man he's defending may have murdered his (the murderer's) rich elderly lady friend, and the murderer's wife, despite telling Charles Laughton that she wants to help her husband, ends up testifying as a witness for the prosecution (Hey! That's the title of the movie!). She's Marlene Dietrich, who was also in Judgement at Nuremberg.

I actually didn't expect the ending, which was fun, but I should have - It is Agatha Christie, after all. It was a fun but rather blandish mystery before that; It's a lot like The Usual Suspects in that respect, actually. I was glad we didn't have to sit through a real romance, because those are getting very tedious, especially in this genre. The Courtroom Drama apparently does not lend itself to a love story, but they keep shoving them in there anyway. It's really, really getting on my nerves. This one was  really about an older man though, so they didn't really do anything like that.

Fun fact: Apparently Alfred Hitchcock used to get all kinds of compliments about this movie, which is odd to me - It's doesn't seem like his style at all, really. Maybe it's because Marlene's a blonde. 

I liked the humor that they had throughout this movie, and I liked the lawyer character a lot, because he was very fun to watch, and he had a lot of great scenes in the beginning. I also enjoyed the ending. The middle bit was iffy to me, but the movie makes up for it. Good show Christie, good show.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Courtroom Drama #7 - Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

I actually put off watching Anatomy of a Murder for a long time, because the thing is three hours long and the beginning is just not exciting, but once I finally got around to watching it, it was not as mind-numbingly boring as I thought it would be. Jimmy Stewart is in it, and he's just a simple country lawyer from Michigan who's defending a man who killed the man who raped his wife - Or did he? It's actually pretty engaging. It leaves you actually guessing about whether or not everyone's story is true, and even the ending is pretty ambiguous (Or I just didn't understand it. That's also an option.) It discusses the rape in frank language that you don't even always see in movies today, and practically never in movies made during the reign of the Hayes Code. I was extremely surprised by that aspect of the movie. It was filmed up in the U.P., because apparently they have buildings there that don't serve to guide ships to shore, which also surprised me.

Anatomy of a Murder is also based on a true story, which makes it the fourth movie in the genre to be so. I'm not really surprised by this - court cases do lend themselves well to entertainment - but didn't expect all of the movies I've seen so far to have some basis in reality. In Cold Blood is even straight-up nonfiction. Almost as surprising as those buildings in the Upper Peninsula (Not to mention that whole town full of people!)

The best parts of this movie are actually totally unexpected. For one thing, for some reason, the judge is totally awesome. He's just always making all kinds of snarky comments and he doesn't put up with Jimmy Stewart's crap and he makes the whole thing so much more entertaining. I don't know why he's like that, but hey, it's cool. He's not even an actor - the judge is played by Joseph Welch, who was the lawyer who represented the U.S. Army in the Joseph McCarthy hearings. You know, in real life. And he's like the best part of this movie.

Another great thing about the movie: The soundtrack is great. It's all jazzy and fantastic. And do you know who it was composed by? Duke Ellington, of all people! It is exactly what you would expect from a movie score by Duke Ellington. It's actually of historic interest, too, because it's the first main-stream movie that wasn't, like, night-club themed or something to feature a jazz score. It's groundbreaking.

I also want to point out that this a great looking black and white film. It's so crisp and the contrast in every shot is just perfect. It was good that I was consciously thinking about it for pretty much the whole movie. It was just so well filmed.

In conclusion: Anatomy of a Murder was surprisingly entertaining, and surprisingly frank, and surprisingly not just three hours of trees, like I would expect a movie filmed in the Upper Peninsula to be. I would watch it again. It also had Saul Bass credits, by the way - That's a good sign for a movie. Look at Vertigo.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Courtroom Drama #8 - In Cold Blood (1967)

I was actually really excited when I saw that In Cold Blood was on this list. I read the book last summer and really liked it, and I don't think I even knew there was a movie. In Cold Blood is a Truman Capote book, and I really like him - I enjoy his writing style and inexplicable film appearances - so the book was a big hit with me. It's nonfiction and about this random murder of a family in Kansas. It's really a character study of the guys who committed the crime, and the story, especially in the movie, follows them more than any other side of the murder. It's very interesting - the story makes a point of making them real people, and even though they aren't portrayed at all sympathetically, there still not just flat-out evil. It also comes right at the beginning of the time when they were starting to get some information on the phenomenon of serial killers - the idea of people killing just for the sake of it was just becoming a real theory at the time - So it was interesting to see them discuss that in the movie.

 The whole thing is a lot like Rope to me, which is an Alfred Hitchcock movie about Leopold and Loeb (They murdered a man as an intellectual exercise) from way back in 1940. The two men in that movie have a very similar relationship to the men in In Cold Blood, at least as far as their murdering dynamic goes. It should be noted that I don't actually think their relationships are similar in any other way. The dynamic they have is interesting to me though, because even with only the two instances of it, it gives the impression that that sort of dynamic is common in murder, that you get two people pushing each other toward that to...impress each other, basically, often. It's interesting to me that you can see the same relationship between two unrelated sets of murders. It's very strange.

But the movie - It is wonderfully Sixties. I really liked the way it was filmed. The music was very guitar-y and plucky and it was filmed in that 60's way with all the weird angles and like filming from above and musical montages and things - Think a darker West Side Story. It was in black and white but the picture was real sharp, so I liked the contrast. The whole thing was very enjoyable to watch. It does drag a little at the end and in the middle, when they're in Mexico, but it picks up, so that's okay. The only thing I really didn't like was that they filmed the movie in the house where the actual murders occurred. That just seems...icky to me. I'm not a fan of that.

I really liked In Cold Blood - It was interesting and it was well filmed and it had good music. I thought about it way more than I thought about A Cry in the Dark. Also, Paul Frees just randomly showed up in the middle, which was a fun surprise.

Courtroom Drama #9 - A Cry in the Dark (1988)

So, Blogger just updated itself and you guys - I can't figure out how it works. I am just not quite hip enough. So bear with me if anything weird happens to the formatting.

A Cry in the Dark was...boring. Really, really boring. It's about that woman who was arrested in Australia because she said that a dingo ate her baby, but everyone thought she murdered it. I know - That sounds interesting. It isn't. Meryl Streep is in it, and it has some commentary on media sensationalism, and the phrase "A dingo ate my baby" is hi-larious, but somehow that does not all add up to entertainment. I just....It did not make an impression on me. It was so Eighties, and not in a fun way - I mean come on: Look at the poster. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't engaging at all. Judgement at Nuremberg at least made me feel something. It made me think about things. This movie just didn't. That's the peril of the early part of the list, of course. We all remember Reds, for example, and Blue Velvet. There are always a couple of movies that I just don't really care about. Movies that don't make we want to say anything about them. I assume we'll have to work through a lot of this once I get to the sports movies, unfortunately.

But enough about that - Here's the thing, you guys: I have 229 days until the end of the world, and seventy movies, give or take. This is possible. But I really have to buckle down. I have to zoom through these Courtroom Dramas and get right on to the Gangsters (Which should be fun), the Sports (Which should be torture), and the Westerns (Jury's still out on the Westerns). Then it's the Romances, the Comedies, and the Romantic Comedies. And then Citizen Kane. I can do this. This can happen. And the next movie actually was really good, so I'll have something to say about that, at least.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Courtroom Drama #10 - Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)

This movie makes me kind of uncomfortable. It's cool - It's supposed to - But it's still not a pleasant watch. You see, Judgement at Nuremberg is about the trial of German judges involved with the Holocaust. It's largely about the accountability of the German people in the Holocaust. Whether they're responsible or not even though they didn't specifically kill anyone. It does raise a lot of questions - Are people responsible, Is convicting a judge different than convicting an average citizen, questions like that.

It's uncomfortable, though, because the Nazis are supposed to be sympathetic. If there's one thing that everyone's certain of, it's that the Nazis were unquestionably wrong. I don't like watching anything that suggests that maybe they weren't. It doesn't sit well with me. The movie does, ultimately, decide that the judges were guilty. The point of the whole movie, though, was that everyone's responsible for the tragedy in some way, because everyone just ignored it. I suppose that's a fair point.

The theme of the movie really overshadowed all of the rest of it for me. I suppose that the acting must have been good, because I didn't notice it at all. Spencer Tracy was in it, which was nice - Everyone likes Spencer Tracy. The cinematography was actually pretty weird - There was a lot of sudden zooms into people's faces. Sort of made me motion sick, actually. Really this movie's strength is it's content - that's what makes it stand out. Also, there's some footage of an actual concentration camp hidden in there, so be warned.

Genre #6 - Courtroom Dramas

This genre is the strangest to me. It seems, you know, oddly specific. Not that it isn't a legitimate type of movie or anything, but it seems weird that they have such a detailed division of film like this and not, say, war movies. That's right - No war movies list, and yet: Courtroom Drama. It's very strange to me.

I'm not going to lie - I'm slugging through this genre a little bit. The thing about Courtroom Dramas is that a lot of the action is just people talking to each other, which isn't all that interesting in film ten times in a row. So I'm hoping I'll be able to get some momentum going and get through this quickly, so I can move on to the ever so exciting Westerns. Woo hoo.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fantasy - A Debriefing

The American Film Institutes Top Ten American Fantasy Films

*My Interpretation*

So here's what I'm going to do - I'm going to give you the movies in their order, and then I'm going to reorder them in the order I think is most accurate. Exciting, isn't it?

Their order:
#10 - Big, #9 - The Thief of Bagdad, #8 - Groundhog Day, #7 - Harvey, #6 - Field of Dream, #5 - Miracle on 34th Street, #4 - King Kong, #3- It's a Wonderful Life, #2 - Lord of the Rings, #1 - The Wizard of Oz.

My Order:
#10 - The Thief of Bagdad (1924) - Too old, too silly. There just isn't enough thought and meaning behind this movie - It has a plot like a video game.

#9 - Field of Dreams (1989) - I don't really like baseball that much, it isn't that interesting, I'm still not really sure what it's about. I didn't mind watching it, but I don't want to watch it ever again.

#8 - Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - It's a great Christmas movie, and it has the best Santa ever, but the romance is boring and it's only okay.

#7 - Big (1988) - Cool concept, good acting. It's alright.

#6 - Harvey (1950) - Interesting commentary on mental illness, Jimmy Stewart, filmed creatively. Definitely a unique movie for it's time.

#5 - The Wizard of Oz (1339) - A fun movie, and a movie that's lasted a long time and is important to our culture. It's just not technically good enough to me. It's too silly.

#4 - King Kong (1933) - Just silly enough. This movie is great. I've always wanted to watch a giant stop motion gorilla fight a pterodactyl, and now I can. This movie has great atmosphere.

#3 - Groundhog Day (1993) - I just really like this movie. It's funny, it's sad, Bill Murray is in it, it's about a silly holiday. What's not to like?

#2 - It's a Wonderful Life (1947) - This movie makes me feel like it is a wonderful life. I just love watching it . It really is heartwarming, which is kind of uncommon in movies.

#1 - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) - Lord of the Rings made fantasy what it is today, and the sheer amount of detail that went into this movie really can't be topped. This movie showed that putting this kind of money behind a fantasy movie is worth it because people want to see it. This is totally the best movie on the list.

Fantasy #4 - King Kong (1933)

You guys, King Kong is everything that King Kong should be. It's like a fake movie from the 30's. This movie is like the film at the beginning of Up. If (No, when) I owned a drive-in movie theater, I will show King Kong once a month, because that is the way it should be seen. There's this romance that comes out of nowhere, an old fashioned movie director, stop motion animation, giant snakes and dinosaurs that don't act the way they should at all. Fay Wray can't climb down a ladder herself until a man guides her to it, and the island has a bunch of natives. King Kong fights a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It's awesome.

Obviously, this movie has to rely a lot on being charmingly cheesy. The acting is only okay, and I think that a lot of that can be blamed on the awkward dialogue, and the special effects obviously don't look at all real, but it still kind of works. This was just a really entertaining movie. Most of the characters are pretty fun - The director is more interesting than the love interest, and Fay Wray is mostly really pretty, but they still all work. I liked watching this movie. It actually looks and sounds really great for 1933, especially when I think of All Quiet on the Western Front, which was made only three years earlier.

I can totally see why there would be a remake of this. Someone would definitely look at this and say "This movie is awesome - wouldn't it be great if Kong Kong could look less silly?" Because he does. I realize that the effects are really impressive for the time, but now they don't look anything close to good. King Kong looks like the Abominable Snowman in Rudolph. It is really good stop motion though - There are still scenes in this movie that animators don't really know how to replicate. It looks great as far as stop motion goes. And that is the best giant gorilla/T-Rex fight I've ever seen.

King Kong is old, and it's cheesy, but it works. It's a really entertaining movie - More entertaining than The Thief of Bagdad. I would totally actually watch this movie again. I liked it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fantasy #1 - The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I am surprised this is number one. The Wizard of Oz certainly has it's merits - It's influenced are culture greatly, it's lasted a long time, it's got good make up, it's good whimsical family fun, but it just isn't all that great a movie to me. It's really silly, the acting's usually only okay, it doesn't have any real symbolism or deeper meaning. While Lord of the Rings felt like it was in it's own, real world, The Wizard of Oz is in a sound stage. They don't try to hide it, because they know they can't, and they go for story book-y whimsical sets, which is smart, but it still doesn't measure up.

It's just that I feel that The Wizard of Oz is likable because it's fun and campy and nostalgic, but not because it's actually a cinematic triumph. It certainly knows what kind of movie it is, and it's fun, and it's definitely an important movie, but it's just not that good. The plot isn't really all that great, all the dialogue is silly. Frank Morgan is definitely the best part of this movie, he's hilarious (He's the Wizard), and Margaret Hamilton is pretty fantastic. The transition to color is really, really cool, and all the costumes look really good - You remember the costumes for much longer than virtually anything else in the movie. And it is impressively old.

It does have its good points, but I feel like as an entire movie The Wizard of Oz isn't nearly as impressive as, say, Lord of the Rings. It's stuck with our culture, but it's just fun and old. It doesn't feel like any sort of real movie. It's entertaining, but it isn't really great.

Fantasy #2 - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

So, it struck me while I was watching this movie that there are not a lot fantasy movies out there, Sure, there are a lot of movies with fantastic elements around, but the only mainstream, epic fantasy movies I can think of are Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Even Harry Potter isn't nearly as classic fantasy as this movie is. The Lord of the Rings is, really, a very unique movie - I can't think of any fantasies on this scale at all in cinema, and none that use so many classic fantasy elements. Lord of the Rings is the foundation for modern fantasy as we know it, and it's influenced the entire Geek culture - It arguably created the Geek culture. Which is why it's weird to me that it's not number one to me. But more on that later.

What always really strikes me about Lord of the Rings is how well-crafted everything is. Every little piece of this movie has so much thought behind it, from sets to costumes to the score. I read that they hired people to make each individual link of their chain mail. And by "people", I mean "two guys," because, you know, nobody does that anymore. Some of their armor has decoration on the inside because it's historically accurate. All the fake languages function like actual languages. Actual languages were written for this story. It's just incredibly how much detail went into this movie.

It show, too. Lord of the Rings is so immersive - It doesn't look like a movie, it looks like that's just what's happening and they're filming it. It's like a documentary with multiple camera angles. Most of the time, of course. The special effects in this movie are terrific, but it's also eleven years old, and every once in a while something will show its age. Luckily they didn't use CGI for things they didn't have to, so we don't have anything silly looking too old. Like crowds or leaves or something. That's a good thing.

The acting in the movie is of course good. For one thing, Sir Ian McKellen. You can't question knighthood. And Golum is barely in this one, which is good because he's creepy and annoying. The score is excellent - even people who don't like the movie admit that - and New Zealand looks very pleasant. Truth be told, I really only have two real beefs with this movie:

1. It is long. So long. Truth be told, I don't actually think it's any longer than, say, Gone With the Wind, but it seems like there's so much more movie than that. That's probably because...

2. There's a slow motion crying scene like every twenty minutes in this movie. It is just too much sadness.

And that's not a bad amount of flaws for a four hour movie. I think this thing is great, and should have been number one.

Fantasy #6 - Field of Dreams (1989)

So, Field of Dreams is...okay. It's about how people connect through baseball, and how baseball represents a simpler time in American history, and there's some stuff about the afterlife and book banning I wasn't really following. Now, I do not like sports. They're not entertaining to me, and I don't connect to them. So I don't really connect with this movie - It was very emotional about a topic that I felt was undeserving of so much emotion. To say that baseball is the only thing that united people and connected us with the past seemed to be a bit of an exaggeration to me.

I do get it a little bit. Out of all the sports, I hate baseball the least - I actually understand the rules, they have the best outfits, and it does fill me with a patriotic fervor. It reminds me of super American things, like Mark Twain and trains and New York and self-made businessmen. But a lot of thing remind me of that time period. Like newspapers. And sweatshops. Baseball is a big part of one of America's many golden ages, but it's just one part.

James Earl Jones is in though, and that was cool. That's not at all how I thought Darth Vader would look - I was picturing someone taller. The whole movie had that weird, 80's/90's thing, where it feels like I just caught it on TV on a Sunday, rather than purposefully watching it. Field of Dreams is a better movie than, say Thief of Bagdad, but that's about it so far.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fantasy #3 - It's a Wonderful Life (1947)

I love this movie. It's a Wonderful Life is the one where George Bailey is really nice but then he looses a lot of money and never followed his dreams, so he tries to commit suicide, but then an angel comes down from heaven and shows him what the world would be like if he'd never been born. The world is terrible, and the movie is about how one man's life affects a lot of people. There's a fine line between actually inspiring and cheesy, and to me this is actually inspiring. It's a Wonderful Life makes me cry every single time and that is good film making. I find that it makes me happy and gives me faith in my fellow man. You're right, Jimmy, I say to myself - It is a wonderful life. And it's nice when that's how a movie makes you feel.

I would definitely say this a great movie. I think the concept is very memorable and something about it very effective. It just really portrays its theme well and it doesn't have to spell everything out to you. It sticks with you; It makes you think to yourself "What would happen if I had never been born?"It's something that you can genuinely reflect on. There's a reason we see dozens upon dozens of parodies of this movie - The issue of whether or not we've had any effect on the world bothers everyone and it's a relatable motif - That's important in a story.

The storytelling in It's a Wonderful Life is really great - You get invested in the story and you follow the characters and it tells the tale it wants to get across. Even though the movie is specifically trying to deliver a moral, the story still manages to stand by itself, and unlike Miracle on 34th Street, it's characters are actually interesting, and entertaining. It doesn't really have a whole lot going for it as far as cinematography goes - I suppose the lack of snow in the alternate universe is a nice touch - but that doesn't really take away from the movie. It is a little bit old. The acting can be outdated and of course Mary's a librarian, but I don't think it really suffers. It's charmingly outdated at this point.

The best part of the movie, of course, is not only are the cop and cab driver named Bert and Ernie (and still friends in the alternate universe, which I love), but the evil banker's name is Henry Potter. And what's a nickname for Henry? Yeah - Harry. Coincidence?

An interesting observation: It's a Wonderful Life is sort of like a reversed A Christmas Carol. They both discuss divine intervention, what people think of you, poverty and the effect of people's pasts on their present - George Bailey and Scrooge even have similar jobs. What's interesting is that , besides the main characters, is the messages are different - A Christmas Carol says that people can change and grow, and It's a Wonderful Life says that people affect others' lives more than they think they do. Alright, fine. The real difference that while A Christmas Carol makes the point that things can get better, It's a Wonderful Life says that they're pretty fantastic already. A Christmas Carol is all like "Take action, change yourself, love your fellow man, form a union," and It's a Wonderful Life is like "Stop whining, you're fine. You have new dreams now." Those are almost exact opposites from fairly similar stories.

They're still very similar stories though - They have similar tones, both of them even rally against corporate greed and poverty, and talk about how it's important to help people. A Christmas Carol is written under the assumption that people don't understand this, and It's a Wonderful Life is written as if they do. I think the difference in perspective comes from the fact that A Christmas Carol is telling us that we need to be different and get to a place where people help each other, and It's a Wonderful Life is telling us that we're already there, and should keep doing what we're doing. I thought it was an interesting contrast.

Fantasy #5 - Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street is the one where Macy's hires a department store Santa Clause who thinks he's actually Santa. It's about fantasy and faith and trust and believing in the goodness in people's hearts and all that. It's very sweet and heartwarming. The guy who plays Santa (It's Edmund Gwenn) is really the best Santa ever, so you do root for him and believe in him, and the little girl, Tiny Natalie Wood, is charmingly adorable instead of just annoying, so that whole plot line is really interesting and engaging.

The romance subplot, however, with the mother and the lawyer/neighbor is sort of just boring and drags the whole movie on. It's definitely necessary, because that plot puts the Santa message in a more mature context, to make the movie connect more with adults, but it is not interesting. They are just not compelling charcters - I know the woman is serious and can't trust and I know the guy's...a lawyer? I can't even think of an actual personality trait that this character has. They are not little fake people that you love and connect with. They're just boring. This is a whole half of the movie that is no good - and look at how much of the poster they take up! It's disgusting!

Miracle on 34th Street is a nice Christmas movie. It's heartwarming and it fills you with joy and hope. The post office resolution doesn't really make any sense, but I think it's excusable because it's heavily implied that the judge is really giving in to the spirit of Christmas and public pressure. The religious overtones are obviously appropriate to the season. I really like the part when the little Dutch girl is absolutely delighted that Santa Clause can can understand her - I think that's really sweet. But I don't find this movie that impressive. Mostly because of the boring romance participants, but also because nothing stands out about it. It doesn't have great cinematography like Lawrence, it's not funny like Groundhog Day, it's not unique or innovative, it doesn't have any great performances or a really terrific story. It's not a great movie, but it is good. I guess.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fantasy #7 - Harvey (1950)

Harvey is a Jimmy Stewart movie about Elwood P. Dowd, a man who is friends with a six foot three white rabbit named Harvey that only he can see. It's...very strange. Most of the plot comes from the fact that Elwood's sister and neice are terribly embarresed by Harvey, and want to have Elwood committed, but they run into trouble when there's a misunderstanding about who the crazy one is. Elwood's sister (Josephine Hull - who also played one of the aunts in Arsenic and Old Lace, fun fact) also sometimes sees Harvey, and throughout the movie, other people have encounters with the rabbit. One of the employees of the insane asylum, when looking up the definition of "Pooka" (It's some sort of spirit guide - that's what Harvey is) finds a message to him written in the encyclopedia - "How are you, Mr. Wilson?"

Harvey talks a lot about mental health - whether Elwood's really crazy, whether everyone else is crazy, whether Harvey exists, whether it's right to commit Elwood, whether it's ethical to change his personality to get rid of a single harmless abnormality. It's not what I expect from a movie from that time period. Elwood does seem genuinely sort of off, too. He goes through the same rituals with everyone he meets, he invites perfect strangers to dinner, he wont let people politely put off these invitations, he drinks a lot, he hangs out in the same place all the time. He's just not quite right. Between that and the way the existence of Harvey is treated (and filmed - Harvey is always in the frame, even though there's nothing there), this comes across to me as a very unique movie, especially for the 50's. I'm surprised that it got made then to be honest, and I'm not surprised that it's remembered.

There's also that really creepy portrait of Jimmy Stewart with the rabbit sitting behind him - I think that contributes to this movie's reputation a lot, because something about it gives the rest of the film just a slightly sinister ambiance. I think most would agree with me when I say that Harvey is a terrifying power (Who can stop time) who just happened to align himself with an unassuming man.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fantasy #8 - Groundhog Day (1993)

Groundhog Day ended up being a much darker movie than I thought it was. I was, of course, familiar with the general plot, which has been blessed upon sitcoms ever since, but I had never seen the whole thing, just bits and pieces. I thought it was a much lighter comedy, like Ghostbusters. It is not like Ghostbusters. Groundhog Day has all kinds of suicides and existential questions and messages about how people hate you and sometimes homeless people just die and there's nothing you can do about it. It's a pretty intense movie experience.

So Groundhog Day is about Phil Connor (He's Bill Murray, in case you don't know), who is a jerk and a journalist who's reporting on Groundhog Day. One day he wakes up and it's still Groundhog Day. And then the next day is still Groundhog Day, and the next, and so on. I'm sure you're familiar with the concept. Usually I'm not a fan of these sort of plots because they tend to be, you know, repetitive, but this movie doesn't have this problem - it doesn't make the mistake of showing you the same footage over, and over and over again, thank heavens. It really explores all of the possibilities of living the same day over, which I haven't seen anyone do as well since.

Groundhog Day really does have a lot of pretty deep themes - It's about living each day like it's a lifetime (Subtle, right?), redemption and how people can change and grow and what's really living and I feel like there might be a theme about arrogance somewhere in there, and how much you can control - There's many layers of this film, many messages. Groundhog Day reminds of A Christmas Carrol - Divine (?) intervention causes a lonely caustic mean person to redeem them self. See - parallels. It also kind of reminds me of The Birds, if only because the main fantasy plot device is never explained at all, mostly because it's not important.

Now, as I'm writing this post, it becomes more and more obvious to me that I love this movie. I love how deadpan Bill Murray is, I love all of the bit characters, I love how the movie takes advantage of the humor you can get from repeating things, and I love that the day is Groundhog Day, the silliest holiday in existense. I found out that Woodstock, Illinois, the town where this movie was filmed, has little plaques in different places from the movie, like the place where Bill steps into the puddle, and now I want to go there. It's only six hours away. I think it's worth it.