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.