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Much has been written about how this movie draws upon 1970s-80s genre predecessors, so I'll spare mention of the obvious ones. What I saw draws heavily on "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1947), right down to Phoenix's use of Danny Kaye's hand movements, except he forces them through the twisted bodily machinery of a madman.
The plot is mostly standard pathos: loss of the social safety net, uncertain parentage, social awkwardness, untreated mental illness, extreme physical bullying.
What makes it work for me is how each 'life' within Arthur's head is an unresolved dream brought on by the loss of access to 'medications': magnetic boyfriend? creepy stalker? failed entertainer? multiple murderer? overnight media sensation? dutiful son? matricidal maniac? socio-political cult sensation? It doesn't matter that any one of those fantasies is resolved, because Arthur is ultimately happy right where he was all along: in the asylum. The plot device of the 'case file' makes this clear.
How will fit Batman into this universe, where the villain isn't one and isn't a cartoon bent on corrupting or intoxicating minds, because he doesn't have to? We shall see.
Hardcore Henry (2015)
The visionary tedg asked many years ago:
"Who will be the first to make a real game film? Who will try?"
We are brought into Henry's world with no understanding of who we are, how we are situated or whom to trust. We have to learn along the way that we are embodied in the earnest 'motivated' hero, we are up against an evil scheming villain, and most importantly, up against increasingly challenging tests of physical prowess as we go along.
The scheming and the exotic challenges enter the story: the evil boss is not just messing with the hero, but with -you- ,the viewer, as well. You are confused and have to fight your way to an understanding of what is going on and how you are situated. The movie ends with Henry / you finding a functional understanding of the world, literally chopped off at that moment.
The style is based on the short "Bad Motherf****r".
Some draw comparisons with 'Blair Witch' or "Cloverfield', but those are only superficially similar because of use of the first person point of view. There, the narrative is objective and external. The closest forerunner to Henry's sort of internally contained narrative would be (the first, from the 80s) "Robcop" where you are transformed into the first person view when Murphy is reanimated and he/you have to figure what has happened. That section of the movie, too, was a very effective game that went over peoples' heads at the time.
Now who will try to extend the concept to other genres?
American Beauty (1999)
Dear, oh dear...it was overrated when it was released, and it hasn't aged well.
This is supposed to be 'clever'. "Look closer" and you'll see the things in peoples' 'stupid little lives' that are disguised by the middle- class American 'commercial'. The respectable dads are in fact self-hating homosexual Nazis, the respectable career-minded wives are unfulfilled materialistic harridans, and their children are smarter-than-thou shallow brats. The only crime is being honest about the phoniness, punishable by expulsion and execution. All it takes is Mendes and his video camera to expose the truth. No wonder liberal Hollywood went gaga.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Return To Sender
What a dull disappointment. Clint chose to make a movie about boxing and all the mawkish 'rising underdog'/too old to succeed-meets cranky mentor with a heart of gold clichés.
The idea seems to be, take the best parts of "Fat City", "Rocky", "Shawshank Redemption", etc., stick them in a saucepan and boil them down to this, and it's guaranteed to be tasty.
Do we need to hear Freeman as the god/narrator again? Really? But Clint figured the movie couldn't function without him, as he seems to think the audience needs to explicitly hear him receive forgiveness from the deity.
The genre has been done to death, so if one is going to make a boxing movie, the movie needs to be about something other than boxing: "Raging Bull" was really about sado-masochism; "Diggstown" was really about con artistry; "Fat City" was really about the agriculture worker underclass.
And one area that Clint always gets right is his depiction of the blue-collar world and his effective promotion of young, unknown actors up the ranks. He would get this right in the superior "Gran Torino". There, he takes chances and succeeds; here, he takes absolutely no chances at all. It is contrived, and radiates this fact in an offensive way. No thanks.
Gran Torino (2008)
The Original Real Man
The key to this movie is that only Clint Eastwood could have played the lead role. Here he is extending or annotating most of his oeuvre of characters: "Dirty Harry" most obviously, a bit of Bill Munny, but also Gunny Highway from "Heartbreak Ridge", whose voice he is both using, and modifying by adding a hint of Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong (esp. "What A Wonderful World"; note Clint's spoken word performance at the end credits). There is a brilliant set up that prepares us for "Unforgiven", but resolves instead with a twist.
Those who don't care for the larger socio-political implications shouldn't continue reading.
What surprised me when I read through other reviews on this site, especially those from posters with a great many entries, is how quickly 'Racism' is declared. By what definition is any part of this movie or the lead character racist? Webster's points to A) belief of one race's superiority over others, or B) race prejudice or discrimination. Folks, this was all explained many decades ago (and Clint, again, is annotating here): "Oh Harry's not prejudiced. He hates everybody." Same with Walt Kowalski - he just wants everyone to leave him alone.
To declare racism at the slightest of provocations (by a work of fiction!) shows how we, as a society, are no longer capable of thinking. We have substituted instant outrage and speech codes for our ability deal with each other as adults.
Well, you know what? I detest this puritan style of eviction from our social discourse everyone whose opinions are not precisely congruent with the thinking of college-educated Americans in the late 20th/early 21st centuries. Most people are not college-educated. Most people are of the working class, and they do not think in that whipped, perfect-PC manner. The barbershop scenes are there to illustrate this point. Spend some time talking to blue-collar workers and maybe your tender sensibilities won't be so easily offended after a little Thao-style conditioning. Lord knows I've been through it: it provides perspective.
Better yet, spend some time talking to combat veterans. Especially men who were drafted for WWII (my father's father), Korea, or Vietnam (my father's brother). They've EARNED the right to say whatever they damn well please, without a lot of tut-tutting from a bunch of overeducated sissies. So please cut the remaining Walts of this country a little slack.
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Cycles Of Counterfeiting
This movie has been at the top of my list of favorites since its release.
It was the perfect movie for the mid-80s moment -- the ultimate expression of Friedkin as style triumphalist. Though the jarring techo soundtrack dates it quite a bit now, and the MTV-patterned rapid-fire film cutting was a product of its time, the core of Friedkin's work still holds up.
This is, of course, film noir, most evidently in the way the characters are at the mercy of a capricious fate - the 'invisible vise' alluded to in the theme song. But there's another level that sets this apart.
The entire movie is about counterfeit relationships (as he further explains in the DVD extras), and this extends to our relationship to what we think we're seeing. Friedkin continually twists and contorts the act of -our- watching, momentarily holds us there, then snaps us back into shape.
The effect is unsettling. The prime example is when Dafoe's character is approached by a dancer whose shoulders and arms (seen from behind) are too muscular to be a woman's. They kiss, then in the next shot, the dancer is revealed to be his main squeeze, Feuer. Their sex scenes also have some very, shall we say, unlikely positions for woman to be in relation to a man.
These and many other examples add up to make the point: the viewer's relationship to the movie is a counterfeit one as well, and the effect of Friedkin's manipulation of this is what endures long after the tendentious qualities wear off.
And that car chase. It still is the finest one ever committed to film, as far as I'm concerned. Obviously, Friedkin's goal was to top himself on his "French Connection" car chase, but it goes well beyond that.
Essentially, it is the chase sequence in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", right down to the "Who are these guys?" banter, reimagined with cars. The point-of-view flashback to the BASE jump is part of this too. It's only there for a fraction of a second, but it speaks volumes about Friedkin's trust in us to understand the perspective he had in mind. Brilliant.
Also brilliant is the ending, which isn't one. Friedkin had the good sense to ditch the happy "Beverly Hills Cop" ending. He simply looped the visual narrative right back to where we started, with Pankow as Petersen reincarnated, and the cycle spins on...without end.
Other interesting bits...it's remarkable how multicultural LA was at the street level back then, what with all the bodega signs and beer ads in Spanish - you would not see this in a studio production at the time.
Also, the opening assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan (who made public appearances in real life with writer/ex-agent Petievich) is shockingly to the point. The would-be bomber is Islamic and loudly announces 'death to the Zionist villains', in so many words. Try to imagine that, today...CAIR and other grievance/agitator groups would be all over the studio for 'failure to show cultural sensitivity' and 'negative depictions of stereotypes'. My, how we've changed.
The point of departure here is "Michael Shayne Private Detective", and then we detour through "Chinatown". The keys to Chase's success with this are two: the effective use of the supporting cast (the opposite of this would be "Falling Down"), and Chase's stance in relation to us. You see, no one -within the movie- laughs at his bantering (George Wendt excepted); the idea is show how far and fast Fletch goes over everyone's head.
Chase really is playing in a space no one else here is allowed to occupy, that rich area between us and the movie 'reality'. The other (and more consistent) master of this within comedy is Bill Murray. Bruce Willis knows how to do this too, having forever altered the action genre in the process. A rapid-fire flummoxing of the actors, who can't keep up and of us, who can barely keep while the next successive joke hits us. We're in on the joke and the actors don't know they aren't. It's sublime.
Along the way, we get the McCrocodile Speech from 'The 39 Steps' and a brief interlude through '...Walter Mitty'. Comic genius, let down a bit, but not fatally so, by that irretrievably dated Faltermeyer score.
The Dark Knight (2008)
This was a relief to me, after the incoherent disaster of "Batman Begins". Nolan has found a way to get this series into a regular orbit; that is, it seizes on an ironic tone and revolves around it.
The value doesn't rely on any sense of originality; you can see how this Gotham is inhabited by "Spider-Man"-type smart elites and dumb proletarians. The videotaped terrorist messages suggest those from "Robocop 2" (an interesting study all in itself), and so on. But the borrowings are OK this time, because Nolan's using a shorthand that we recognize and fits within, rather than works against, what he's doing.
And it's overplotted, but that's nothing new from the summer movie genre. If anything, it's an advantage in the pacing of the second half of the film...we build and build tension with the music score and the action to a precipice, then...satisfaction with release. That takes editing skill.
Because of Ledger's performance, there's going to be a mystique surrounding this film for some time to come...poor Heath took a trip straight into the asylum and never came back out; and with Bale's own current legal problems, viewers and fans will get the sense of a risqué edge to being associated with this, in a way, analogous to the air that surrounded "Poltergeist" for years. Nicholson's Joker worked within Burton's sense of camp...here, Ledger serves the purpose of giving voice to Nolan-as-writer, the prime mover who operates by his own rules -- "no rules".
The best movie ever made? No. But a step above most DC comics material, without the preening of the Marvel movies. Worth a look, if only to have some perverse fun tagging along with the Joker.
Batman Begins (2005)
This is astoundingly bad stuff...no amount of top notch writing or directors, no amount of A-list veteran actors could save this. So the question to explore here is: why is the final potion so much less powerful than the sum of its parts?
I'm beginning to believe that movie studios can no longer come up with anything original. Look at the obvious theft: the mentor/student relationship, complete with swordplay, straight from "Highlander". The City's design is a lesser "Bladerunner" or "Metropolis". It's one thing when a writer/director, or an especially talented lead actor can weave in other movie ideas, such that we don't reject the new amalgamation...but here, there's not one deft moment, not one place where we can think 'how compelling!'.
We can even forgive the lack of originality if there's anything else we can secure ourselves to. But the other major problem is that the movie cannot find a tone to settle on. It tries to wrench our emotions through Bruce Wayne's personal suffering...and yet tries to wink at us with clever one-liners. Which direction is it going?
I think the business of filming a comic book with the intent of convincingly fleshing out the pathos, is an impossibility. The comic strip can be relentlessly dark; but a movie has to contain some amount of levity. The first "Fantastic 4" movie found its own tone and more or less stuck with it; the recent "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" found a tone that resonated. This is a slow and dreary hallucination.
I'm giving this a 10 for two reasons: because it's an important warning to us in the larger tolerant Western world of what happens to smaller, tolerant countries when they make the suicidal mistake of admitting too many outsiders who are culturally and politically unable to assimilate to the tolerant mores of the host country. Wilders reminds Holland of this with the segment on the hangings and drownings of gays.
Second, since this film has gotten noticed, there's been the inevitable infantile tantrum/backlash from the very people it exposes -- proving the larger point. I urge you to take the time, seek out the web video before our own speech police shut it down entirely.
What shocks is not the actual news clippings or footage - we've read it all if we've paid attention the last few years. Our own media have gone out of the way to spare the public from the actual barbarism of our enemies, that is, civilization's enemies. So to see it without varnish is unsettling.
I find it blackly comic that people will brand this as 'racist' (Islam is not a race) or 'offensive'. Wilders has simply assembled footage of their own acts, their own 'videos', their own man in the street candid statements, etc...there's no dramatization or distortion. So how is it offensive? Western civilization long ago hounded out of existence the worst acts committed (falsely) in the name of the dominant religion. It's time Islam did the same. Christianity routinely suffers criticism for the violent passages in the Bible. Where are the riots, bombs and beheadings? If Islamic moral progress is possible, we'll know we're there when we exchange heated words in place of bullets.
Paper Moon (1973)
I came into viewing this knowing about Tatum's Oscar performance, and she doesn't disappoint. She's utterly fascinating to watch. There are several layers to appreciate here.
The fundamental one is that of the actors delivering lines. But on top of this you have the natural father-daughter pairing. On top of that, you have the film's meta-story: the ambiguity of whether Moses really is Addie's 'Paw'. Time has added yet another layer -- that of real-life friction between parent and child that we know about in advance of seeing this.
We get the most obvious part, the charm of the plot. But we also get the treat of watching Tatum and Ryan trying to best each other on two levels: on that of who's the better con artist, and on that of which actor's presence controls the picture.
And this is where Bogdanovich makes it interesting. For almost the entire narrative, the camera takes the child's point of view. Everything from the swindling of the $200 inheritance to the confidence game with the Bibles to the 'wrassling' match, and so on, is seen with her eyes.
We expect Addie's vision will prevail. But Bogdanovich takes advantage of our confidence by then splitting the narrative between two points of view. In the end, it comes down not to 'resolving the plot', but to making us invest in the emotional payoff.
Absolutely recommended viewing here. Be sure to see "Sweet and Lowdown" as well. The connection is rich and worthwhile.
Modern Times (1936)
Overworked Assembly Line
It's easy to see where the great physical comedians of the 20th century drew their inspiration from: straight from Chaplin. The skit here with the 'nose-powder' leads to Woody Allen's "Take the Money and Run" and "Sleeper"; the struggle to serve the roast duck was extensively borrowed by John Cleese in "Fawlty Towers" (and the hapless 'Manuel' character); the department store robbery was the basis for John Hughes' "Career Opportunities". The recently and sadly departed Marcel Marceau drew hugely on Chaplin's mastery of the physical language of silent film.
In particular, when Woody affected silly, lecherous behavior (his 'Orgasmatron' skit), he tapped directly into what made Chaplin great -- his ability to simultaneously convey innocence and naughtiness. See how his Tramp attempts to adjust the strategically-placed bolts on women's outfits, and scratch your head as to just how this got past Code restrictions.
It seems all the ingredients for greatness are there, the key being the brilliant idea of a 'talkie' vs. 'silent film' construction. But that's all it adds up to: a jumbled collection of ideas that is less than the sum of its parts. It tries to carry a 'message'; it tries to cross pollinate a satire of politics and the dehumanizing power of the industrial state with 'progress' in the form of talking films (all of the vocal parts emanate from machines); it tries to hold together a coherent romance. It's too much to assemble all at one time
I look forward to seeing 'City Lights', and then reconsidering this movie in the context of having seen both
Double Indemnity (1944)
This particular relic serves one purpose today: to show just how far we've advanced as viewers of movies in terms of our expectations. This may have been definitive film-noir in its day. Now the distance between this movie and the ubiquitous use of noir in our time is as distant as the dictaphone within is to today's digital recordings.
Surely, it's hard to get much purer than "Double Indemnity". It announces in undiluted terms how it's all about the individual caught up in the machinery of uncaring Fates. The men are openly and piggishly sexist. The women are decorations...but there's no actual sexuality this deep in the Code period. Not a drop of irony anywhere.
And so I think we expect a lot more than this now. At least I know I do. What I expect is a movie that visually plays the game with me, and is not just about a game perpetrated on the world of the movie's characters that we passively observe.
This is obsolete. I'll go with any one of this movie's many descendants, starting with "Body Heat".
The Family Man (2000)
It's appropriate that the 'glimpsed' life of our protagonist Cage is that of a tire salesman -- because what the writers are attempting to sell here is a grafted veneer over an old body of films. They whiz by in succession: "...Wonderful Life", "Groundhog Day","Regarding Henry", "Scrooged".
The reason this can never truly be interesting is because it cannot have even the slightest tinge of irony or darkness; it must follow the established directives of holiday films. And that means its attraction comes from playing it straight: how the stars flesh out our romantic daydreams, how the children beam, and so on.
Somehow, Cage's routine has never grown box office fungus. He vacillates from furrowed-brow ennui to nervous petulance. There's just something about him that's a bit off...something that makes his attempts to seem an ordinary 'everyman' never quite convincing. Leoni's performance runs rings around him.
Cinematically, the only mildly clever bit is the use of the 'movie within the movie' wherewith Cage finds his 'lost identity'. And even this has to be hoary and saccharine.
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)
I remember this as being more exciting than it actually was, a decade and a half ago.
And also how this was lauded as a the new 'date movie' paradigm. It seemed obvious enough, with the allusion to another date movie within (Breakfast at Tiffany's). What's important is that this is the inverse of what we would get today: instead of targeting female moviegoers, things are engineered here to draw a male audience with machismo and the martial arts wow factor.
But if that's the central value, I'll eat my hat. Several things annoy.
The movie can't walk two steps without tripping over itself on race issues. Every scene is geared to show how boorishly evil whites and their Hollywood machine are. The denouement really occurs halfway in when the 'good white woman' vanquishes the racism by shaming us when we laugh at Mickey Rooney, and then by becoming one with the Numinous Asian.
By the way, the portrayal of Lee as philosopher is the unintentional joke. Physically and cinematically, he was a martial arts genius. Intellectually, he was nowhere -- his "philosophy" of fighting is a dull recycling of clichés from Taoism and American self-help books.
Those who personally knew Lee marveled at his uncontainable energy. This movie had no hope of even approaching that. At least the star gave it a valiant effort.
The 400 Wild Ones
The Mods v. Rockers thing draws from "The Wild One", but plainly this is a direct descendant of Truffaut's "Les Quatre Cents Coups". Visually, this is evident from the rooftop camera angles, and narratively, in the youth at bay for being unable to conform to 'the rules'.
The Who's double album was rather ambitious stuff...an arena rock opera that is about the Mod scene from ten years earlier, but without the slightest hint of retro-rock. Townshend and Co. ultimately stated that they were dissatisfied with the album.
But, enter the UK's 'New Wave' revival of Mod affectations in the late 70s, marry this to Truffaut's 'New Wave' film-making, and you have a worthy reinvention of the project.
The lyrical 'concept' is a manic-depressive youth who self-medicates, with bad results...the movie is imagined as a youth who chafes against the 'movie world'; that is, a world of actors playing 'actors' playing roles...and the youth is the only one who can't handle the dissonance when the other actors drop their facades, i.e., Sting appearing to be a rebel, the girl appearing to be a genuine love interest. Cinematically, it works quite well.
What held this back, I think, is the dubbing in of the music from '73, which is so out of place, the result is a complete thematic mish-mash. Roddam should have taken the approach that was used in the '75 "Tommy" all-star musical; that is, to cut all ties with the extant music, and record period reinterpretations to fit in with the visual and narrative components.
The Edge of the World (1937)
'Death' Of An Island
The premise here is the evacuation of St. Kilda, set in the uttermost Shetland Isle of Foula.
What strikes the viewer at once is the contrast between the banality of the invented drama with the uniquely cinematic beauty of the island. And, more importantly, the contrast between the flashes of genius in the framing, composition and camera angles with the flat soundstage close ups. It's as if there's two movies going on at once, and Powell lurches us back and forth.
The plot itself is a trifle of no concern...what does come through is that the human and livestock presence on the island seems an irritation that nature can't wait to shake off, such is the power of the visuals.
The rope rappelling scene is paid tribute to in "For Your Eyes Only"...
I came into this expecting Winkler to make a movie of no relevance or sophistication...I'm glad I was wrong.
Some suggest the structure here is 'This is your life', but they must have missed "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling".
Most movie musicals are flatly unbearable for two reasons: insipid writing, and usually there's a very thin connection between the musical performance and the movie itself.
Of course, Porter was the rare composer who could weave words and music together with such great dexterity. I would've been content with two hours of musical highlights.
What Winkler does is seamlessly knit together a narrative out of competing stances: the inventor (Pryce) creating the movie with his visit; the inventor within (Kline, playing both creator and observer) guiding the story from the words...the effect is marvelous, and peaks when we get to "Night and Day", where the writing, the rehearsal, the performance and the aftermath are all woven into one. There are too many delights to point out...you just have to let yourself be seduced by the brilliant performances, lighting and editing.
Other movie borrowings: Porter's accident and disfigurement suggest "Barry Lyndon" (the slow motion fall from horseback, the amputated leg).
This is a wonderful reminder of a lost world...when people could just sing for fun...when pop culture wasn't designed to insult its consumers.
I'll get the few words of praise I have for this out front: the center of this, visually and narratively, is the 3-way tussle on the rolling mill wheel. It is a clever way of referencing the experience of being on one of Disney's theme park rides. We see the action from outside the wheel, from inside the wheel as though we're running within, from a right angle to the axis, as though we're fixed to the imaginary axle, etc. ... Pretty good stuff.
However, this idea plainly chafes against the rest of the movie which is dreary, dark, nihilistic and NOT appropriate for the age of the target audience. Verbinski and Co. should've stuck with PG content, but unwisely tried to rope in the PG-13 crowd...at the cost of eliminating the insouciant fun that pervaded the first film.
And worst of all, the rest of the movie is just filler...stuffing pulled out of other cinematic vocabularies, notably "...Temple of Doom", "Waterworld", "Yellowbeard", characters taken from the "Star Wars" lexicon who are given life from a blend of makeup and CGI.
Stick with the first film...none of this new stuff is necessary...
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Not Best In Show...
Although Browning's "Freaks" is suggested ("That makes One of Us..."), this more closely follows "National Lampoon's Vacation" (cantankerous, plain-spoken grandpa drops dead on the road; the etiquette of proper handling is ignored because the goal's so near).
For this to matter, it needed to be ruthless...that didn't happen. There's no hint of blackness to the comedy, and therefore, no edge. The friction between the members of the freak family sometimes grates, but always leads to Hallmark-card amelioration. That's TV sitcom sentiment, not the sort of stuff for cinephiles to hang our hats on...and they suggest Proust and Nietzsche!
As for the final 'performance' within the performance, I'd hoped for a "Napoleon Dynamite"-styled delivery of a come-uppance...but that didn't happen either. The entire movie was spent building up the tension that the little girl will beat the beauty pageant 'freaks' at their own game...instead it goes for the feel-good twaddle of a 'just be yourself' message.
Go West (1940)
These Marx Bros. features aren't 'movies' in the sense that we understand them today.
The idea was to entertain us with the customary skits, fill in the interstices with the peripheral dramatic plot, and provide a platform for Groucho's banter, and for Harpo and Chico's considerable musical talents.
To that end, we have an entire scene set in an Indian camp engineered to have Harpo 'discover' a harp (the weaving loom), and captivate the two audiences: the 'indians', and us, the viewers. While he doesn't fail to amaze, it doesn't supersede "A Night at the Opera". But Chico acquits the whole scheme with his piano rags in the saloon - watch how his hands become 'characters'.
Also of note is the slapstick 'train chase', constructed in a manner that did Keaton proud, and filmed as a homage to the silent era.
¡Three Amigos! (1986)
The point of departure is Sherman's Three Mesquiteers features ("The Night Riders", etc.), filtered through silent film. Martin wears Chaplin's derby and Chase wears Keaton's boater...otherwise, it contains every Western cliché, and everyone's acutely aware of it.
These guys really could've done something smart here. Look at what you have: an audience believing the movie icons are real heroes, and the actors believing the real world is a movie set.
The problem is that Martin and Michaels are unable to squeeze very much out of the skits. It's on fumes well before halfway through.
And Landis' poor editing just makes it worse. This stuff is paper thin, but he has to stretch every cut to make the end result feature length, thinking the comic presences will be enough. Compare this to the smart editing of "Blues Brothers" or "Spies Like Us" and it's painfully clear.
Martin and Chase are both comedians who have to be in the right environment: for Martin, movies about movies ("L.A. Story", "Bowfinger"). Chase can't play an outright imbecile, he has to do layered performances("Fletch") or play it not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is ("Funny Farm").
Grand Hotel (1932)
When I watch these old films, I come in hoping that there's a great cinematic experience that stands the test of time, just waiting to discovered; recommendations and ratings don't always tell the full story to me - I found "It Happened One Night" to be one such disappointment.
Alas, this movie is not an example of lasting greatness...but it does have a few cinematic bits of historical interest.
Particularly the Barrymore brothers' performances. Lionel's earnestness serves as a sort of 'Walter Mitty' precursor. And John's performance clearly was used by Michael Caine as one of the ingredients to his 'gentleman thief' in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels". I find Garbo's theatrics to be too much...too 'pay attention to me' in character.
Visually, this is mostly trapped in staginess; it lacks that conceived-as-a-film quality. Hitchcock and Welles would eventually bring that to us. But there are a few images that stick. The view down the hotel's central tube to the lobby unquestionably was used as a template for the City of Zion from the latter two "Matrix" movies. And the illusion of the cat burglary seen from above looking down toward the sidewalk is impressive and seamless.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Remove The Blindfold
This is the sort of film that only Kubrick could make...no one else stretches our tolerance for languorous self-indulgence in quite the same way. Especially with the liberal use of female nudity...common in European film, but subject to all manner of puritanical finger-wagging in the US. Kudos to Cruise for publicly sticking up for the artist's finished result. The only compromise was a digitally added cloaked figure in front of an act of copulation.
As with the master's prior great works, what matters is not so much the plot or content but the -way- in which he conceives things purely for film. The hallmarks of this are the rearwards camera view that lead the actors through space, the dreamy long takes and reverse-angle cuts with generous lead time between bits of dialogue.
With this film we get the tantalizing promise of a narrative game - is this a dream? Whose dream is it, actually? Or overlapping dreams with no 'real world' to bring us back to? Note the use of one redhead (Kidman) to drive us into one dream state, and the opposing talisman (Davis, also a redhead) to drive us out again. Intermittent affairs with the blondes only lead to dead-ends.
But I think Kubrick wasn't sure of where to leave us, so he uses his customary insouciant ending. The blindfold, our blindfold, is removed...
Capricorn One (1977)
This movie has more than a few things going for it; yes, the pace is slow...until we get to the wingding finale. Hitchcock figures prominently here, chiefly 'The 39 Steps' (with the autogyro recast as helicopters). Hal Halbrook would use this movie as a warm up for "The Star Chamber".
The investigative reporting is largely tongue in cheek; Gould's muckraker would later be used as a component in "Fletch" (the planted drugs and the trip to jail). And note how the 'movie in the movie' mirrors the larger theme of the 'fabricated reality'.
But this fails. For this to succeed as noir, it needed to be set up so that -we- believe the illusion and are unsure of the truth until the detective sorts it all out for us. That doesn't happen.
No, the value is placed on post-Vietnam, post-Watergate cynicism that springs from the old conspiracy theory that the Apollo landings were faked, and extrapolates from that Hollywood's larger indictment of the 'government's' actions. Ho hum...