Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Midnight Cowboy ★★★★

    "You know what you can do with them dishes. And if you ain't man enough to do it for yourself, I'd be happy to oblige. I really would." These are the words of Joe Buck expressed in his opening monologue of the 1969 film entitled "Midnight Cowboy." Joe is the central character of this poignant drama that is based off the novel of the same name written by James Leo Herlihy.

    The introduction to the title character in this film is one of the best I have ever seen. We first meet Joe Buck, as he prepares himself to leave a small Texas town, in route to the big city that is New York. He plans to quit his job as a local dishwasher, as his true ambition is to become a male prostitute. He dresses in "cowboy" attire and heads out the door of his motel room with nothing but a cow-skinned suitcase and a small handheld radio. After a long bus ride, filled with vivid imagery from Joe's past, he finally arrives in the Big Apple and begins his dream as a male escort. However, after being hustled by his first client, Joe finds himself alone and desperate. He meets a crippled, street savvy, and small-time hustler named Enrico Salvatore Rizzo, who is nicknamed "Ratso." Ratso also cashes in on Joe's naivety after he refers Joe to a well known "pimp" to manage his services. Ultimately, Joe is kicked out of his hotel room (due to insufficient income), and after fatefully bumping into Ratso once again, this pair of pariah are forced to become friends, and partners, in the hustling underworld.

    The performances in "Midnight Cowboy" are simply timeless. Joe Buck is played by the very talented Jon Voight, whose role in this picture kick-started his career; I truly believe that Voight was born to play this role. Voight genuinely succeeds in this portrayal of a young, brash and naive Texas boy, who dreams of wealth and women. He has utterly no idea how he is going to capture this dream and surely has not thought things through. He is charismatic, charming and knows that "lovin" is all he's ever really been good at. Although Joe Buck is the central character, this film would not have been the same without the supporting role of Dustin Hoffman as Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo. Hoffman is equally brilliant in this heartfelt role of a small-time hustler. After initially viewing Joe as a small time score, Ratso begins to develop feelings of empathy for this young man and invites him to stay at his condemned apartment shack. They become friends not because they want to, but because they have to. They never had anyone to rely on. They are brought together by the overpowering feeling of loneliness. After displaying an unforgettable role in the 1967 film "The Graduate," Hoffman shows his range as an actor with this gem of a performance. His, "I'm walking here!", monologue will always be remembered as one of the most cherished, and brilliantly improvised, lines in the history of cinema.

    I will have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Roger Ebert and his opinion of this film. Most notably, his notion that the series of flashbacks scattered throughout the movie are a weakness to the film itself. He questions the psychology behind Joe's past and the connection with his character presently in the film. Personally, I feel the flashbacks are integral to the character of Joe Buck and that the early flashbacks display a certain sense of nostalgic beauty, especially the first instance featuring "crazy" Annie and Joe. We need a reason to believe why Joe is leaving this small town behind, and they paint it almost too vividly.
    "Midnight Cowboy" is a provocative and daring film that speaks volumes through its magnificent performances and the superb direction of John Schlesinger. The 1969 Academy Award winner for Best Picture is a film that, when viewed, will linger in your soul for years to come. You have to admire a character who has the ability to drop everything they have ever known and chase their dream, as silly as it may be. Too often in life, we "settle" in a job or situation, simply because it is comforting and routine. It takes extraordinary amounts of courage to do what Joe Buck set out to accomplish. Unfortunately for Joe, I don't believe he is that courageous. He is young, and his innocence blinds him to the fact that what he is undertaking will be exceptionally difficult.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ★★1/2

Image result for catching fire hunger games

    "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is the much-anticipated sequel to the original film that debuted in 2012, and it is the second installment in a series based off the novels written by Suzanne Collins. With direction by Francis Lawrence, the events of this film take place exactly one year after the first Hunger Games, which featured our most beloved heroine, Katniss Everdeen.

    "Catching Fire" begins with a paranoid and quite shaken Katniss Everdeen, who is hunting in the nearby woods of her District 12 home. It becomes evident that she is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the events that took place in last year's Hunger Games. We then proceed to view the conditions that she has been living in as well. She lives twenty-five feet away from her male counterpart, and "lover," Peeta Mellark, albeit in separate homes. Also, she still seems to be very close with her longtime friend, Gale Hawthorne.

    Since they won the 74th Annual Hunger Games, it is tradition for the victors to go on a victory tour and become mentors to the contestants of this year's games. With this victory tour just hours away, an unexpected visit from President Coriolanus Snow startles Katniss and the plot. He reiterates how disappointed he was with the outcome of last year's games and the "hope" that she has suddenly given to the rebellion. This particular event will fuel the storyline and the outcome of the film's events.

     The acting in this film is mediocre at best. The essential actors and actresses from the first film all reprise their roles for this sequel. Josh Hutcherson continues his role as Peeta Mellark, the co-winner of the previous year's games. He is still very much in love with Katniss and still presents himself as the "All-American Boy." Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch Abernathya previous Hunger Games victor and mentor to Katniss and Peeta. Sadly, this character is completely one-dimensional. In fact, it seems as if Abernathy's only care is alcoholism, that is, of course, until the story requires him to defend his young apprentices. The only bright spots are the appearances of Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sutherland reprises his role as President Snow and is absolutely brilliant in his limited screen-time. Hoffman takes over the role of the newest "game maker" and also displays flashes of brilliance. It is truly a shame that these two actors did not receive more time on-screen.

    Last, and certainly not least, is Jennifer Lawrence, who continues her role of Katniss Everdeen. Now, there is much critical acclaim for Lawrence and her performance here; however, I will not be fooled by all of the so-called "hoopla." Lawrence's performance is entirely flat and unmotivated; she is melodramatic in most scenes, which doesn't help the story of the book translate to film smoothly. For example, in a scene where Katniss is suffering from nightmares, due to PTSD, she asks Peeta to sleep with her and to comfort her. The delivery of her lines constitute promiscuity, and it truly throws off the dynamic of her character.

    Also, there is a continuity issue with regard to her PTSD. Early on in the picture, she seems very startled and even has horrid flashbacks to a killing in the previous games, which throws off her use of the bow and arrow. However, the next day she is flinging arrows at targets as if she was miraculously cured. Perhaps she understood the seriousness of the situation and knew that she needed to take her skills to the next level. A thirty-second monologue would have sufficed in showing that.

    Diehard "Hunger Games" fans will not need this review to know that they love this picture. They will cherish it because it is the only adaptation of the novels, and I can respect that. However, as a film critic, I will not let "Catching Fire" have a free pass. I genuinely enjoyed the first film and had high expectations for the sequel. Yet, the ending to this film is nothing short of atrocious. I literally thought to myself as the film ended: Is that it? Of course, they purposely left a cliffhanger ending to assure us that there would be another film or films, but we already knew that.

    This franchise direly needs to take notes from a master at translating novels to film, and that would be Peter Jackson and the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy. I understand that the book leaves the events in the same fashion; however, when it comes to the medium of film, there has to be an ending scene that is sufficient in summarizing the movie. It must provide the viewer with something to take home; maybe even a theme of some sort. Instead, I just went home disappointed and seventeen dollars lighter in the pocket.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Predator ★★★1/2

    Over the course of cinema history, few movies have successfully blended two genres together to make one film. "Predator" is a 1987 film that combines the action genre with that of science fiction in a way that makes it seem relatively easy. This is the second picture directed by John McTiernan, who receives the most recognition for his work on two of the "Die Hard" films. With a shockingly beautiful exterior environment and a terrific cast of characters, this film will leave your pulses throbbing.

    "Predator" begins with a shot from outer space in which we witness a spaceship release a pod toward Earth. This opening scene indicates that we are in for a science fiction film. The camera quickly takes us to a Central American camp where a team of special force soldiers are being flown in for a mission. The leader of this group is Major Dutch Schaefer, a ruggedly built individual who takes pride in his work and loves his men. Dutch soon finds out that an old friend, George Dillon, is the man responsible for bringing him in. The mission is to rescue a presidential cabinet minister, who has been abducted by guerrilla forces after his helicopter crashed in enemy territory. Dutch's team is then escorted by helicopter to the coordinates of the downed aircraft. We get a glimpse of the distinctive personalities of this crew who will soon find out that their mission isn't what they signed up for and that something is waiting for them. 

    In order to have a successful action film, then you must first have a group of actors that not only can play the part but look it. Arnold Schwarzenegger  excels in this department. A pro bodybuilder turned actor, Schwarzenegger provides us with his third major motion picture role. He is wonderfully believable as a commander of a special forces unit. A simpler plot and dialogue leave Schwarzenegger to do what he does best: kick tail. Carl Weathers jumps into the role of George Dillon, the old comrade of Dutch who tags along to ensure the mission is completed. Weathers, who is an ex-professional football player, also very much looks the part that he is given. (Most will recognize him from his work in the "Rocky" films.) The rest of the cast also exhibit soldier-esque physiques and mentalities, including a cameo by a former mayor of a small Minnesota town, Jesse Ventura. I have a high respect for actors and their profession. This respect grows when you realize the preparation taken for a particular role. These actors here have bodies that most men will never achieve, and they endured horrid shooting conditions to make this film. I just hope that they feel the finished product was worthy of their exasperated efforts.

    "Predator" is a movie that aims for a certain goal and executes it perfectly. The exquisitely beautiful jungle setting makes this film along with some underrated direction. I also must give recognition to Alan Silvestri, who sets the overall tone of the film with his musical scores. I must whole heartily disagree with the notion that this film has "arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie." Sure, the script and dialogue do not compare to any classic film in cinema history, and that is because it was not made to do so. This movie does exactly what it set out to do: transport the audience to a tropical setting to witness action and suspense. In film, we must learn the distinction between genres. Most, if not all, action films are not going to have a stellar script or complex story line. As a movie critic, we have to judge these genres individually. Otherwise, we will be comparing films such as "Predator" to the likes of "Casablanca." 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

American Beauty ★★★★

Image result for american beauty movie poster

    As we grow older, numerous feelings seem to slip away from our adult lives; whether it is the feeling of innocence, nostalgia or the simple beauty of a sunset, these emotions tend to dissipate as we become confined in our jobs, responsibilities, and everyday nuisances. "American Beauty" is about a man who refuses to give in to these confinements. It's about a man who wants to regain what he has lost. This man is Lester Burnham, and he is the central character in this 1999 drama that won five Oscars, including Best Picture.

    "American Beauty" opens with a short narrative by our main character, Lester Burnham. He introduces us to himself, his wife, his neighbors, and his daughter, all through a seemingly dark and brutally honest perspective. Lester admits that he and his wife are unhappy. He slogs through his mornings to get to an "ordinary" job in which he advertises for a magazine publication. Our main character is aware of his shortcomings and that something has slipped away. This all changes, however, when he is forcibly taken by his wife to his daughter's step team performance. He becomes infatuated with his daughter's blonde friend, who ironically believes that "anything is better than being ordinary" when Lester is nothing else but ordinary.

    This seemingly fateful incident shocks Lester into coherence for the first time in twenty years. He begins his rebellion by blackmailing his boss, which gains him a full year's salary with benefits; he starts working out--because what young girl doesn't love a guy with muscles; he begins a relationship with the new neighbor's teenage son when he is once again forced to attend a business party by his wife. Lester also indulges in a marijuana habit in an effort to remember his younger days, when life held no responsibility and just adolescent happiness. Lester's rebellion intertwines with the supporting characters' lives and leads to an explosive and superb ending.

     The cast of "American Beauty" is nothing short of perfection for this interpretation of the typical, everyday American family. Annette Bening plays Carolyn Burnham, a woman who matches her pruning shears to her gardening clogs. She is a completely self-involved, career-driven, and controlling individual, who ignores Lester and treats her daughter as an "employee." Bening's nomination for Best Actress in a leading role is much deserved here.

    Thora Birch steps into the role of Jane, the daughter of the Burnhams. Jane is lacking self-confidence and hardly has a relationship with her parents. She becomes attached to the neighbor's teenage son after she catches him videotaping her. She is somewhat flattered that anyone would find her interesting, or physically attractive. (These thoughts are clearly psychological.) Ricky Fitts, the teenage neighbor and admirer of Jane, is played by Wes Bentley. Ricky is a closet dope smoker, and distributor, who has his own infatuations, including video recording and finding beauty in inanimate objects. Mena Suvari plays Angela Hayes, the beautiful blonde friend to Jane and Limerence Object to Lester. Although Mena is limited in screen time and dialogue, she plays this character with grace and poise. We ultimately find out that Angela Hayes isn't what she seems to portray.

     Last, but certainly not least, is Lester Burnham, played by the multi-talented actor Kevin Spacey. Spacey is unmatched in this brilliant portrayal of a middle-aged, suburban father. He certainly deserves the nod for Best Actor, and I believe he found the role that he was made for. I have supreme respect for Spacey and his performances over the years; however, it is his approach to acting that I have the most respect for. Spacey keeps his private life completely guarded against the materialistic world, which can sometimes hinder the realm of cinema. To him, keeping his private life to himself allows us, as the viewer, to completely believe that he is one of these characters on-screen. This could not be truer.

    "American Beauty" is a spectacular film and one that certainly deserves the recognition and praise it has received over the years. As human beings, it is only natural and instinctive that we fall into our everyday routines, and very seldom do we break free. If you have not seen this film, then you should most definitely give it a try. It might help shake you out of your reclusive coma of everyday life. I encourage everyone to try to enjoy life's simpler aspects. Stop to smell the roses once in a while. Before driving home from work, stop at an enjoyable surrounding and witness a beautiful sunset. Sometimes as adults we try much too hard to become something other than ordinary; to become something--extraordinary. You don't have to accomplish impossible feats to become extraordinary. Just live your life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

3:10 To Yuma ★★★★

     A good western film in the 21st century is extremely hard to come by. James Mangold's "3:10 To Yuma" is one of the very few exceptions. "3:10 To Yuma" is a 2007 western drama based on the short story written by Elmore Leonard, which was originally published by Dime Western Magazine in 1953. A movie was originally made in 1957, and this 2007 version is a new spin on the classic film that was produced fifty years prior.

     "3:10 To Yuma" begins on a dark and dreary night in the old west. We find the protagonist, Dan Evans, startled from his sleep with good reason. A group of men working for a lender, in the near town of Bisbee, proceed to burn down his barn and warn him that he only has a week to pay back a debt of his. This situation instills resentment in Dan's older son, William, and a sense of failure in himself.

    We come to find out that Dan is a Civil War veteran who lost his leg in the war, and who later borrowed money to pay for his family's needs when a drought decimated his Arizona ranch. The next morning, Dan and his two sons leave the ranch in order to round up the cattle that were frightened off the night before by the fire. Unfortunately for Dan and his sons, they stumble upon a robbery in progress initiated by Ben Wade and his "wild bunch." This fateful meeting will lead Dan Evans and Ben Wade on a harrowing journey to their respected destinies.

     The characters in a western film are different from most genres. They are strictly a product of their environment, and the actors have to play their roles having virtually no idea how these 19th-century individuals really lived. The cast of "3:10 To Yuma" excel in all areas and give Oscar worthy performances. Dan Evans is played by the multi-talented actor Christian Bale, who found enough time to film this movie while not interfering with his role as Batman. (I am truly grateful that he did.) Bale triggers his inner sensibility and delivers a heartfelt performance centered around a man who has lost the respect of his family due to his inability to provide. Dan Evans stands by his morals and is proud to live off an honest living. He cares deeply for his family, and he is a testament for every man to inspire to be.

     Russell Crowe steps into the role of the ruthless gunslinger Ben Wade; Wade is an intelligent, cunning, and violent individual, who leads an outfit of men to sin and prosperity. He makes a living by robbing stagecoaches with seemingly relative ease. Crowe is brilliant in this particular role and shows that he can be a menacing villain. Although Wade is a thief and murderer, he does express faith in a higher power and shows a slight sense of empathy toward Evans. Some other notable roles in this film include Peter Fonda who plays Bryon McElroy, an employee of Pinkerton security, who was escorting the stagecoach in the opening robbery by Ben Wade. Even at an older age, Fonda delivers an inspiring and electric performance. Ben Foster plays Charlie Prince, the loyal and faithful sidekick to Ben Wade. Foster shows shades of brilliance and performs well in one of his most notable roles to date.

    Most westerns concentrate on long and rather tedious plot deterring shootouts; however, this film is most concentrated on the characters and their needs. In essence, "3:10 To Yuma" is a classic tale of the old west that serves well as a re-make. The direction and script are exceptional and are carried out to perfection by a superb cast. This is a dark and strikingly relevant film to humankind and the theory of destiny. We all face this controversy many times throughout our lives; questioning why we are here and what our purpose is on this Earth. To answer these questions, we must first look within ourselves. To quote the brilliant George Harrison, "Try to realize it's all within yourself, no one else can make you change."              

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Heist ★★

Image result for Heist film Gene Hackman stills

    Joe Moore is so cool that when he sleeps, "the sheep count him." Whatever that means.

    Mr. Moore is the central character in the 2001 caper film entitled "Heist." It was written and directed by David Mamet. This is a picture with an exceptional group of actors, that, unfortunately, do not live up to their previous Oscar worthy performances. A lack of quality writing and direction leave these characters one-dimensional, and, quite frankly, unexciting. 

    "Heist" opens up with Joe Moore, and his crew of flunkies, attempting a robbery on a local jewelry shop in New York City. They are successful, however, after one employee is still conscious due to their inept plan, he has to take action by subduing her, and he is ultimately seen on camera. This action of being "burned" (or being caught) fuels the plot throughout the picture and gives Joe a reason to get out of the game for good. Joe's fence has other ideas, however, and when he finds out Joe's plan to run, he withholds the profit from the previous gig.

    The fence has set up another robbery, which involves a Swiss airplane that contains gold in the cargo. He insists Joe and his crew take this last heist if Joe plans to sail off into the sunset with any kind of spending money. This will be the main heist that sends Joe Moore and his crew on a road filled with twists and turns until the bitter end. 

    The cast in this film are extremely talented and have proven so in many instances. Joe Moore is played by the well-known actor Gene Hackman, who extracts as much substance from this character that is humanly possible. Joe Moore is completely one-dimensional; his only care is money, which he makes abundantly clear in the opening minutes when he states the only love of importance is the "love of gold." (Not to mention the fact that he sends his wife into a promiscuous situation, with no thought or care, just to tactically complete a plan of action.) Hackman does show shades of brilliance, but, ultimately, they are drowned out by a rather dull character.

    Danny Devito plays Mickey Bergman, the fence for Joe and his crew. It is a small and defined role for Devito, who just simply tries to keep Joe in check and hopefully reap a share of Swiss gold. Bobby Blane is Joe Moore's faithful and longtime sidekick, and he is played by Delroy Lindo. Lindo is another very talented actor whose talents are suppressed and taken for granted.  The rest of the cast includes some forgettable names--especially Sam Rockwell--who is laughable in his role as Jimmy Silk, Bergman's nephew, who tags along on the final heist to ensure Joe stays true. 

    At its core, "Heist" has an exceptional plot and could seemingly be a great movie. A weak script and unmotivated actors could be the reason for this film's demise. Also not helping the cause are many absurd, and laughable, scenes, which involve inquiring police officers and several examples of horrendous acting. I will have to disagree with Mr. Roger Ebert and any serious film critic who gives this film a rave review. "Heist" does not exceed in any area of film-making, and an older Gene Hackman does not have enough firepower to otherwise mask these flaws. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween ★★★★

     Halloween is one of the most intriguing holidays in the history of the world. It embodies many things, including fear and celebration. It also takes place during the most beautiful time of the year; when the earth expresses so many delicate colors and when there is a slight sense of nostalgia in the air. John Carpenter's "Halloween" is a 1978 horror film that takes the essence of this holiday and bottles it up for the viewer to open time and time again.

    This film begins in fictional Haddonfield, Illinois, in 1963. The camera directs us through the subjective viewpoint of a little boy on Halloween night. This innocent young boy is Michael Myers, who we soon find out is not as innocent as we think. After committing a sinister act in which he murders his sister, young Michael wonders out into the front yard only to be discovered by his parents with a bloody butcher's knife and a look of complete bewilderment. We then fast forward fifteen years to Halloween 1978. Myers has escaped imprisonment from a mental institution and has stolen an official's station wagon for transportation. He travels back to the only place he has ever known, Haddonfield, where he proceeds to stalk some local teenage girls.

    The acting in "Halloween" exceeds what you would generally expect from a horror film. The man behind the mask of Myers, a character that is also famously known as "The Shape," is Nick Castle. Although Myers has no dialogue, Castle had to delicately control this monster through his motions and movements. He had to make sure he didn't seem too mechanical while not moving too swift or human-like. Donald Pleasence steps into the role of Dr. Sam Loomis; Loomis is the health official in charge of keeping Myers out of the public eye--and once Myers escapes from confinement--he frantically tries to track him down.

    Pleasence takes this role in stride and genuinely comes off as a scared and nervous individual. He knows the evil which could potentially wreck havoc on the small little town of Haddonfield, and he explains so to the local Sheriff in one particularly brilliant scene that Michael is "no man," but "pure evil." Laurie Strode is the innocent babysitter who becomes the focal point of Myers' murderous intentions. After he first gets a glimpse of her, "The Shape" continues to stalk Laurie and her friends into the evening. Laurie Strode is played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her first professional acting role. (This, of course, famously launched her acting career.) Curtis is true to this role as the innocent bookworm who cares more about her studies than mingling with boys or substance abuse.

    With this film, John Carpenter has molded a timeless classic in the horror genre. Many films since have duplicated numerous aspects from this picture and have tried to mimic them with unsuccessful results. Carpenter is brilliantly patient with his camera movements and occasionally surprises the audience with a startling movement or musical score. Coincidentally, Carpenter also wrote the music for this film, which fuels the paranoia and fear that surrounds the audience. Debra Hill also deserves a substantial amount of credit for her role in the production of the film and the writing of the screenplay. The cast and crew for this film were extremely young at the time, and it definitely shapes this picture to a certain extent. It gives off a sense of their youth--and in the case of Curtis--innocence. My only issue with this film would be the timing of filming. It was filmed in the spring, and it truly disappoints me that they did not film in autumn. I understand the excitement and politics behind an October release; however, the beauty that could have been will always linger with me.

    "Halloween" is a gripping film that will leave your pulses throbbing for the entire ninety minutes. It continues to be celebrated and rightfully so. Carpenter claims that to film a drama or comedy is a very tense process and serious in mood. On the other hand, filming a horror movie lightens up the mood; it allows the actors and director to be more comfortable and laid back. I would assume that "fear" is the emotion that allows all of this to happen. "Halloween" exhibits all of these aspects and will rest in the memories of us all as the ultimate horror gem.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Fugitive Kind ★★★★

    Valentine "Snakeskin" Xavier drifts into town with nothing but a forgettable past and his lifelong companion--his guitar. Xavier is the main character in the 1959 film entitled "The Fugitive Kind." This picture is based on the play, written by Tennessee Williams, known as Orpheus Descending. Sidney Lumet directs this black and white drama, which features dark undertones and brilliant character studies. 

    "The Fugitive Kind" begins in New Orleans where we first get a glimpse of Valentine Xavier; he is pleading his case in front of a judge. Once the judge begrudgingly gives him leave, he gets his guitar out of "hock" and makes his way out of town to turn over a new leaf. After his car breaks down, he finds himself in the town of Two Rivers County, Mississippi. It is a small, dark and dreary river town where all the inhabitants know each other, and they surely don't take kindly to strangers. He finds work at the local mercantile store and begins a relationship with the owner's wife---all while trying to fend off the past.

    The performances in "The Fugitive Kind" are nothing short of sensational; Marlon Brando is brilliant as Valentine Xavier. (One of his lesser known roles.) Brando performs this role with natural ease, especially considering the complexity of his character. He is a thirty-year-old, intelligent, and quiet individual, who displays provoking thoughts and sensibility. Xavier is wise and does not fall victim to temptation. There are many incredible scenes where Brando depicts those particular traits of his character with supreme professionalism.

    Brando is arguably the greatest actor of his time, and here is one of the roles that he may not have been highly praised for; however, he unquestionably shows a variety of range in his approach to this performance. 

     In order for a film like this to work, then you have to cast an actress with enough range and power to equal that of Brando; Anna Magnani does just that. Magnani is impeccable in her role as Lady Torrance, the wife of Jabe Torrance, who owns and operates the local mercantile store. When we first meet Lady, she is a sad and broken woman who claims that "death can't come soon enough." She has lived a rough and painful life with many heartbreaking memories. From the moment she meets Xavier, however, she knows that he can pick up the pieces and make her feel alive once more.

     Brando and Magnani have incredible chemistry together on the screen. Every scene between these two characters is genuine and beautiful. Joanne Woodward rounds out the cast as Carol Cutrere--the black sheep of a wealthy local family who pays her to stay out of town. Of course, she doesn't, as she loves attention and must be "seen, heard, and felt." Naturally, she falls for Xavier, for she remembers him from a New Year's Eve party in New Orleans. Woodard is terrific in this role, and she also displays wonderful chemistry with Brando. 

     Lumet is methodical with his directional approach to this film. Every scene takes its time and doesn't rush to prove its point. Lumet works well with his actors here and makes sure to get the best performances from them. This is the first major film of many that Lumet will direct and ultimately prove his place as one of the best of his time. The environment of this film is incredibly dark and dim; credit must be given to the cinematographer and other production crew who successfully contain this film to its dark interiors.

    Additionally, the musical scores are placed brilliantly and never drown out any conversation. They are very subtle and even downright eerie, especially in an early scene in which Brando converses with the local Sheriff's wife, who gives him a dry place to rest on the night he comes into town.

     "The Fugitive Kind" is a dark and delicate film that should be watched on a quiet and lonely night. It will lend its emotions to the viewer and will grip you with its beautiful dialogue and acting. True character studies are a miraculous thing to observe. It is truly a shame that they do not exist in film any longer. We have become spoiled with computer graphics and special effects, and we have lost the sensuality that was once captured in film. This is a picture that will stand the test of time simply because it is far ahead of its time. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Field of Dreams ★★★★

    "I'm thirty-six years old, I love my family, I love baseball, and I'm about to become a farmer, but until I heard the voice, I'd never done a crazy thing in my whole life." These are the iconic words of Ray Kinsella--the central character in the 1989 film entitled "Field of Dreams." This picture is based on the book, Shoeless Joe, written by W.P. Kinsella, and it is directed by Phil Alden Robinson.

    "Field of Dreams" introduces us to Ray, and his family, through a nostalgic montage of vintage home movies and pictures. Accompanying this scene is the voice-over work of  Kevin Costner, who stars as the main character. He has a wife, a lovely daughter, and works as a corn farmer in the beautiful state of Iowa. His life is routine mostly, and he never involves himself with spontaneity. This all changes, however, when a voice from above whispers these words to him: "If you build it, he will come." This event turns Ray's life upside down, and it will send him on a magnificent and spiritual journey to fill the void in his life--a void that he never had the strength to confront otherwise.

    This film exhibits a star-studded cast with spectacular performances all around. Kevin Costner shines as Ray Kinsella and proves to us why he is one of the greatest actors of his time. He plays this role with a sense of quiet passion and urgency, even though his character has no idea what's in store for him. Costner is a naturally gifted actor that displays wonderful continuity in his mannerisms and facial acting. This is a character that he was born to portray, and one that we are meant to remember.

    To aide Ray in his quest is his loving and supporting wife, Annie, played by Amy Madigan. Madigan is very good in what appears to be a smaller and somewhat bogged down role. She is undoubtedly confined to being the supporter of Ray; even in her most explosive scene, she again takes a back seat to the plot. Yet, Madigan breathes life into this loving family and brings beauty to a cast that is dominated by male actors. Rounding out the cast are veteran actors Burt LancasterJames Earl Jones, and Ray Liotta. Liotta stars as "Shoeless" Joe Jackson who, even with limited dialogue, becomes an integral part of this magnificent story. Jones plays the reclusive and brilliant writer named Terrance Mann. Mann works directly with Ray and, even with his short time on-screen, we see him transform from a cold and distant individual to a character with a loving heart. (Jones has a prominent speech in the last half-hour that will simply blow you away.)

    Lancaster steps into the role of an ex-baseball player named Archibald "Moonlight" Graham. Although a secondary character, Lancaster brings true emotion to this film. He is a man of integrity, who has seen his dreams brush past him, "like a stranger in the crowd." Graham will attempt to recapture his long and forgotten dream through Ray and this magical field. Lancaster ultimately reminds us all that you don't have to be the star to steal the show.

    This movie revels in its brilliant performances, which spawn from a very well-casted group of actors. Although they should get most of the credit, the director and crew executed their jobs in honorable fashion. Phil Robinson, who doesn't have the greatest resume for a director, should get recognition for his role here. The direction was excellent, and the film had numerous strikingly gorgeous shots. In my opinion, the camera must help tell the story that the actors are depicting. (The camera in this particular instance followed their lead and ran with it.) Robinson executed long shots and close-ups when needed and didn't over-extend himself, which can be very important.

    There is one particular scene, involving Doc Graham, that shows you how something very small, and seemingly insignificant, can enrich a film. Chirping birds and a subtle breeze make it into this wonderful scene, which not only stimulates the senses, but it gives you a feeling that you are actually there. Robinson also deserves credit with regard to the screenplay. He, and the author of the book in which this movie is based, W.P. Kinsella, completed a wonderful script, which consists of smooth and warming dialogue.

    "Field of Dreams" is a remarkable story, and it is even more breathtaking when etched into the medium of film. It did receive high recognition among many film critics, and the film was nominated for Best Picture. If you judge this book solely by its cover, then you will probably just dismiss this movie for another baseball-themed film. Although baseball links these characters together, this film adds up to much more. It is a film that comments on guilt, happiness, and not being afraid of reaching out and grabbing onto your dreams.

    The last half-hour of this film is emotionally charged, and it excels in bringing out the emotions of the viewer. Purposely, I did not divulge too much into the plot, so that if you have never seen this movie you might give it a try. For those of you that have seen this film, I hope you would agree that those particular moments that touched your heart are still with you and that you haven't forgotten the magic.

    "I best be getting on home, before Alicia begins to think I have a girlfriend."


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Badlands ★★★★

Image result for Badlands film title shot

    Her name is Holly--a fifteen-year-old, Texas-born, innocent young girl. His name is Kit--a mid-twenties, James Dean imitation, hellbent type. These are the central characters that Terrence Malick chooses to build his world around in "Badlands" his 1973 debut film. This picture is a fictional tale, which is loosely based on the events of the Charles Starkweather/ Caril Fugate  murder spree. There are many similar details to the real life events; however, you will have to connect the dots for yourself.

    We are introduced to these characters through a nostalgic setting in the Midwestern town of Fort Dupree, South Dakota. The opening scene sets the blueprint for the entire picture with its beautiful voice-over work (spoken by Sissy Spacek) and its haunting musical scores.

    Holly's ingenuous life revolves around school, music lessons, and baton twirling--until one fateful day--when she meets Kit Carruthers played by Martin Sheen. Kit is a local garbage man who, after leaving his work route a little early, stumbles upon the young Holly while she plays in her front yard.

    They begin an effortless (and rather instinctive) relationship that is brilliantly displayed on-screen with images of Holly running to Kit's car or waiting for him at the setting of a high school football practice; it is a relationship rooted in loneliness and detachment. Kit loves Holly for her innocence and guiltlessness, and perhaps she reminds him of a simpler time in his life.

    The acting in this film is quite exquisite. Sheen and Spacek, in their most prominent roles to date, display a wonderful chemistry with each other and with the surrounding environment these characters inhabit. They bring these unique characters to life in a way that most actors could never dream of doing: By dissolving their own personalities into these lost individuals, these actors make the character their own. It is truly a shame that neither got the recognition they deserved. Sheen is exceptionally radiant in many particular scenes and moments. (This includes a reserved discussion with Holly's father and a scene of quiet anger after one of the murders.) Spacek's voice-overs fuel this film and beautifully accentuate Malick's poetic words and imagery.

    Of course, we must also give credit where credit is due. Terrence Malick is the artist here, and Sheen and Spacek are nothing more than colors on his palette. In his cinematic debut, Malick takes everything we have seen in the medium of film up to this point and adds his own special ingredient: Nostalgia. Personally, it is my conviction that this is one of the most underrated emotions in the art of film. Whether it is a certain shot or a string of shots, this emotion is present in all of Malick's pictures. His direction and cinematography are simply impeccable.

    Considering the fact that Malick is a known perfectionist, and that he takes his time to properly edit his work, we should not be surprised by the remarkable outcome. The sequence of shots in the chapter entitled "Grand Love," a progression in which Holly and Kit begin to develop their feelings for one another, are some of the most beautiful shots I have ever witnessed. In addition, the scenes of Holly and Kit in the wilderness prove to me that Malick is at his best in nature. Malick also has a small acting role in this film, which you may not even notice unless you have seen a picture of the reclusive filmmaker.

    This is a picture that will change your perspective on film and direction. The director is the nucleus when it comes to making a brilliant film. If the direction is terrific, then ninety-nine percent of the time, the picture will speak of this notion. Film consists of more than just a plot, a setting, and a set number of characters. I am a true believer that the five senses must also be intrigued.

    Obviously, you will not be able to touch, smell, or taste a film; however, in a figurative sense, you must be transported out of the norm--thrown into a world of pleasure, excitement, and wonder. Emotions must be toyed with. This film is nothing short of a joy to watch and an even greater delight to critique. Every four-star film will leave you with these feelings and Malick's "Badlands" exceeds in all facets.

    "Takes all kinds."