Sunday, October 4, 2009

#57 The Third Man 1949

A man goes to visit a friend, who turns out to be dead. And, as he investigates the murder, he learns that his friend was much seedier than he had thought. This is the story of The Third Man, and what an intriguing story it is. The film is filled with twists that even a modern audience wouldn’t see coming. The Third Man is the kind of film that you don’t necessarily realize is great until you take a really good look.

For one thing, the cinematography is amazing. The use of shadows throughout this film puts every other noir director to shame. Light is used to its greatest potential, as there are few scenes were one character or another is not shrouded in darkness to mirror the deceit in the story. Also, the use of shadows and silhouettes in chase scenes and for suspense is brilliant. Further, the use of depth and architecture is wonderful, especially in the last scene, as Anna walks down the tree lined path past Holly.

The music in the film was also great. At the end, as the sting to catch Orson Welles is underway, there is a melodic, sultry, Tarantino-esque guitar playing in the background. It juxtaposes the action in the scene perfectly to add texture and make the scene much more interesting. Its one of the few pieces of music that stands out, which is appropriate in the climatic scene.

All this said and appreciated, the best parts of the film were the screenplay, and the performance by Orson Welles. The plot of the story was great, but the dialogue made it even better. Filled with quirky one-liners, the film had a touch of humor in the midst of intense suspense. My personal favorite was the English detective, saying to the self-appointed detective, “You were born to be murdered.” Also interesting was the analogy made by Orson Welles, as he talked about the general population as the dots seen from the sky. “Tell me,” he says, “would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?” The worth of one random persons life and whether each live is equal to another: a universal issue presented in an original way. The screenplay is simply is Mr. Welles.

Orson Welles is on screen for maybe twenty-five minutes. However, in one scene, he makes more of an impact than any other actor in the entire film. Welles is so intense and believable in his character that it’s amazing. Until Welles appears on screen, he is only spoken about, so when we finally meet him, the intensity of the character makes a real impression. From there, you actually have a person to hate or root for, where before there was merely an idea.

I cannot say that The Third Man was one of my favorite films, but it is certainly wonderful and beautifully made. I highly recommend it.

Pictures Retrieved From:


#48 Rules of the Game 1939

With Rules of the Game, we’re not only introduced to a new story and new characters, but an entirely different world. In this world, sex is the favorite and most popular pastime, and a man’s wife and mistress can be best friends, even if they both know one another’s roles. In the film, were introduced to two love triangles. One exists in the upper class, consisting of a marquis Robert, his wife, Christine, and his mistress Genevieve. It also becomes apparent that that national hero Andre is head over heals for Christine and would like to make to claim her for himself. The second triangle is created among the Robert and Christine’s staff, between Christine’s maid, Lisette, her husband (the groundskeeper) Schumacher, and Lisette’s would-be lover, Marceau (although Lisette has a wide range of lovers at her disposal). The two triangles progress side-by-side, one being about love and commitment, the other based upon sex.

From the very beginning, we know that infidelity is going to be a major theme in this film. Almost everyone is either cheating on his or her significant other, but no one seems to be perturbed by that. It seems to simply be the way of the French. People confess to being unfaithful, others watch people lock themselves in rooms with people other than their spouses. They look on and laugh.

Interestingly enough, there are two non-French characters, who are the most out of the loop. Christine is not French and is the only person oblivious to her husband’s affair. Schumacher is also not French, or at least not completely French. The marquis even teases him, saying his name in “shoe maker.” These are more-or-less the only characters who seem to have a problem with chronic infidelity, although Christine eventually gets over it.

The role of the servants was also interesting. Obviously, some servants (Lisette, Schumacher, and Marceau) played a important role in the film. However, others, who were more cursory characters, accented the movie in an entertaining way. They acted as the level headed parents, rolling their eyes and cleaning up after the band of spoiled children they work for. In many ways, they mirrored the modern American spectators, as we scoff at the rich’s absurd requests and watch wide-eyed as their tangled webs unravel. As a consequence of the vast divide between us and the main characters (due to socio-economics and moral fiber), the spectators find it particularly easy and comforting to connect with the help.

In conclusion, I thought that the story was interesting, but the plot twists were uncalled-for and lessened the characters, who were fairly flat to begin with. As a whole, Rules of the Game was a good movie, but not one of the best, in my opinion.

Picture Retrieved From:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

#9 Chinatown 1974

Caution: Spoiler

I watched Chinatown last night. I didn’t really know what to expect. Some people had told me it was awesome. Others had said it was good, but disturbing. So, I pressed play prepared to be impressed and a little scared. And, as it turns out, that was perfect. I can’t say that I love the film, but I certainly appreciate that it was great. I thought Chinatown start off really slow, but at the story progressed and got more interesting for the characters, the film in general got more intriguing. There were a lot of twists and turns in the plot, but it was still easy to follow; there was nothing too complicated. The story makes sense and keeps you guessing until the very end.

As always, Jack Nicholson was wonderful. Rarely do I see his earlier films, so upon starting Chinatown, I didn’t appreciate how great he is. I know, of course, that he is an amazing actor, but I didn’t realize how amazing. He seemed to disappear into the role, becoming JJ Gittes completely. I believe the ability and willingness to let go of yourself for the sake of the role is what separates good actors for great ones. Jack Nicholson’s performance in this film is a perfect example of that distinction.

I was very impressed with Faye Dunaway’s character, Evelyn Mulwray. She was a strong and smart and passionate and I admired her. Even though I was always suspicious of Mrs. Mulwray, but I still liked her character and rooted for her. At the end, when she is shot down, I wasn’t as sad for her as I was discouraged because I’d been hoping that she would succeed. But apparently, that’s how it is in Chinatown. Faye Dunaway did a good job bring this character to life. I wasn’t as impressed with her as I was with Jack Nicholson, but she was very good. It was also cool to see John Huston playing Cross, Mulwray’s father.

In film class, we recently learned about diegesis, the world created within the film. I thought the subtle elements of Chinatown were part of what made this film so great. Not necessarily the main characters, but the smaller side characters, some seedy, some nice, and some that we’re not really sure about yet. For example, JJ’s friend Curly, who at first glance looks like a low life, but seems like a huge teddy bear once he greets JJ with such elation. Yet, his wife is stand there with a sizable black eye. Or the crabby archivist who seems to hate JJ for no particular reason. All these elements that made this 1930s, dog-eat-dog, no happy endings world so complete and believable were deliberately put there, placed strategically to give this story texture. This is the triumph of Robert Towne and Roman Polanski, writer and director respectively – to create this world that is completed by these small additions to the plot. It was brilliant.

Pictures Retrived from


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

#86 Red River 1948

I’m usually not a huge fan of westerns. There are, of course the expectations – The Magnificent Seven, Silverado – but not of the time, a duel at high noon isn’t really my thing. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Red River. The think what I liked most about it, after watching Montgomery Clift for two hours, was the fact that it was much more than a Western.

The story is about a herd of cattle being driven from Texas to Missouri, led by Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son Matt (Montgomery Clift). Desperate to sell his cattle and salvage his ranch, Dunson soon shows that he’ll do anything to get to Missouri, including being ridiculously harsh on his men. Eventually, after realizing that Dunson is out of line, Matt chooses to take over the drive and lead the men himself.

When I think of Westerns, I usually think of cowboys fighting Indians, saloons filled with women, and men shooting one another over nothing. Well, this movie had only two, though they were two very crucial scenes, cowboy vs Native American scene. There were no saloons, and in fact only two female characters in the whole film. The movie was really about the relationship between a father and son, desperation, and what it means to become an adult. The added depth in the story, combined with the entertaining, sometimes very insightful side characters made Red Rvier much greater than your standard Western.

The main characters were played by John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. Neither performed especially well, but both were excellent in their parts. Of course, Wayne can play a Western in his sleep, and was great. And Montgomery Clift had a certain naiveté that worked well for the role. The best was probably Walter Brennan, who played the sharp-witted, sharp-tongued Groot, Dunson’s loyal sidekick. He was funny slightly whimsical, playing the intermediary between Dunson and Matt wonderfully.

Additionally, with sweeping shots of the old west, the cinematography was probably the best part of the film. Rarely do we see this kind of cinematography, especially in modern movies. It was also really cool to see thousands of cattle moving as one. Seeing as I have never seen more than five cows at once, this was a new and amazing sight for me.

All told, I would give this film 3.5 stars. Great cinematography by Russell Harlan. Great direction by Howard Hawks.

Picture Retrieved from

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

#28 Funny Face 1957

There was one scene in Funny Face in which Audrey Hepburn, in a beatnik-ish French café, did a modern dance. Dressed in black, head to toe, she dances in the smoky room in a way that had probably seldom been seen before this film, and hasn’t been seen much since. It was very unique to the film. Other than that, I’m afraid that the film was not all that impressive.

Funny Face is about the world of fashion photography. Astaire, a photographer, discovers a new model, Hepburn, and whisks her away to Paris. In the film, Hepburn, as always, is adorable and plays her character well. However, the character is irresponsible, naïve, and kind of annoying. She had gone to Paris as a model as a means to getting to meet her favorite philosopher. While there, she acts fairly childish, as she half models and half parties with the artsy fartsy crowd. Meanwhile, she is falling head over heals for Astaire.

It may be my personal prejudice, but the coupling of Astaire and Hepburn did not seem at all natural to me. In fact, it seemed very unnatural and kind of weirded me out, not to mention that the character was very patronizing, which was frustrating. The film also had the small flaw that is common in many classic films – that the couple get together too easily at the end. At the requisite post initial get together break up, some terrible things are said, which are never taken back or proven wrong. In my opinion that greatly lessens the relationship, which wasn’t all that strong to begin with.

Now, based on the two stars, you may be thinking that the song and dance number must have been great. And they were, but not for Fred Astaire. Compared to what he did with Ginger, what he did with Audrey was nothing special.

The role of the magazine editor figure was played by Kay Thompson. She was very good. She has a great voice and played the character well, being just the right mixed of bitchy and sensitive. Also done well was the cinematography. The shot are beautiful and the use of color throughout the film, particular the first “Think Pink” scene and the spotlights at the café, was exceptional. Unfortunately, I don’t have many other good things to say about this film. I thought it was average, especially compared to other films of the time and genre.

Photo Retrieved From

Monday, August 24, 2009

#69 The BIcycle Thief 1948

Brilliant film!

It’s the story of a man who, obviously after quite some time of unemployment, gets a job putting up posters around Rome. In order to do this job, he must have a bicycle. In the beginning of the film, we learn that the man, Antonio, does own a bike; he had sold it to buy food for this family. So, he and his wife must sell their linens in order to get the bike. Sadly, on Antonio’s first day of work, the bike is stolen. The rest of the film follows Antonio and his young son, Bruno, as they comb Rome to find the bike and, by extension, the family’s livelihood.

The actor who played Antonio Ricci, Lamberto Maggiorani, was wonderful. Within the course of two days, he goes from overjoyed to breaking down. There was one scene where Antonio had decided to take Bruno to lunch to cheer him up. Antonio resolved to let his trouble go for this one lunch, so he could enjoy it with his son. However, soon into the lunch, his fear for not seeing his bicycle again gets the better of him and he begins to worry. As he is explaining his money problems to his son, the fear written on the man’s face is obvious. The scene was very impressive, and probably could have been told through Antonio’s facial expressions without any dialogue. As the film wears on, Antonio gets closer and closer to total desperation and his breaking point. Finally, he meets his breaking point. Watching him using all his strength not to emotionally crumble in front of his son feels so real that it leaves you heartbroken, wondering how the Ricci family will go on.

The direction by Vittorio De Sica was also great. This was the first film I had seen by him. I particularly liked (and I don’t know if this was accurate or an aesthetic choice) there was always an excess of bicycles in many scenes. Either there would be hundreds for sale, or the streets of Rome would look like the second leg of a triathlon. The effect was similar to a group of survivors dying of thirst in a lifeboat; water all around, but not a drop to drink. I thought that visual choice made the story much more frustrating for the viewer and the characters. I really enjoyed watching The Bicycle Theif, and look forward to seeing other De Sica films.

Photo Retrieved from

Sunday, August 23, 2009

#15 Taxi Driver 1976

I had always been embarrassed, being a film student and never having seen Taxi Driver. But, now, finally, that problem is remedied. I watched Taxi Driver last night and was blown away. It was obviously a very sordid, rather depressing movie, so I can’t say that I enjoyed the story. However, in seeing Taxi Driver, I definitely experienced one of the best made films of all time.

In the role of Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro set new standards for all his successors. Unlike many of the other characters in these films, who have a sizeable amount of childishness in them, Travis Bickle seems to be part pre-teen, as he gets heartbroken over Cybill Shephard’s Betsy and then practices his gun wielding skills in the mirror in the unforgettable “Are you talkin’ to me?” scene. In the beginning of the film, even knowing what the character will morph into, we kind of feel sorry for Bickle. He can’t sleep; he’s anti-social, and not event eh girl at the peep show will talk to him. Then, the slow curdling of Bickle’s sanity was perfectly depicted on screen, as he mutates into trigger-happy man-with-a-mission seen above. He plans to shoot up a political rally, but, having been chased away, decides to kill a pimp, along with others, for the sake of a 12 year old hooker, Iris. The book from which I’m getting this list said that Martin Scorsese would direct the film on the condition that De Niro play Bickle. Thank God he did, because the possibility of another actor in this iconic role is unfathomable.

Iris, also known as Easy, the twelve (and a half) year old prostitute, is played by a young Jodie Foster. For a long time, Jodie Foster has been a role model of mine, because she acts, directs, and has become renowned and respected completely from her own talent. Of course, I had mostly seen her in her later roles, but in watching her in Taxi Driver, I realized that even at such a young age, Foster was outstanding. Foster had relatively little screen time and even less dialogue, but in she certainly used that time to her advantage. She mastered not only the character, who was very complex, but also the human ticks and subtleties that others actors her age would have overlooked.

Finally, the direction. In class, I once saw a student film that Scorsese had done while at NYU, and I recognized some of the artfulness from that film in Taxi Driver. Some of the more creative shots were downright masterful and made the film so much more interesting than it would have been had it been shot traditionally. I also loved how we saw the city through the eyes of Travis Bickle, seeing the scum of the earth on the dark streets of New York. These let us know the condition of the city and emphasized how much Bickle was not actually a part of it. In my opinion, Scorsese not getting an Oscar for this movie (he wasn’t even nominated; the director of Rocky won that year) was ludicrous. It was amazing.

Photo Retrieved from

Thursday, August 20, 2009

#83 Cabaret 1972

My first experience with Cabaret was last year at school. My friends and I had decided to go to the performance being advertised on campus. As I would be coming right from class, I had to meet them there. However, in my seemingly infinite absentmindedness , I went to the wrong theater after class. By the time I got to the right theater, half of the play was over. So, up until tonight, had only ever seen half of Cabaret, in any form.

I thought the film was excellent. It was not one of my favorites, but wonderful nonetheless. My favorite scenes were those in the Cabaret, the song and dance numbers. I love the concept of a place where all the problems and troubles of the world are left at the door and everyone there has agreed to engage in mindless fun. In the film, I especially loved how the scene would switch from a Cabaret song to something happening in the outside world. Sometimes the action outside mirrored the some being sung. However, many times the two scenes were very different from one another. Switching between the two continually reiterated the stark difference between the world within the Cabaret and that outside it. It was a brilliant way to display the allure and purpose of the Cabaret.

Further, Liza Minnelli was amazing. Her talent as a performer alone is enviable, but her acting skills were also wonderful. She was outlandish were it was necessary, (which of course was often) but was also adept at being subtle and softly convincing. Her character was half harlot, half child, and she portrayed her beautifully.

Minnelli’s character, Sally, and Michael York’s, Brian, are two people that go through a rollercoaster of emotions and temperaments. Yet, somewhere the transition from one to another did not seem harsh at all. Instead, the characters changed and evolved (or sometimes regressed) smoothly. I was very impressed.

The only complaint that I have is a rather significant. I was often bored with the film. Although the story was interesting, in the slower moments of the film, I found myself checking to see how much time was left. Nonetheless, the film was very good. I especially commend the editing, direction, and performance from Ms. Minnelli. Like the most of the other movies on my list, this film is a great example for all others.

Picture Retrieved From

Monday, August 17, 2009

#45 The Deer Hunter 1978

When I put this DVD into my machine and pressed play, I honestly did not know what to expect. Of course, I had heard of The Deer Hunter, but I’d never discussed in detail as I had some other films, so I didn’t know what was in store for me. And after watching it, I thought it a bit slow in places, but wonderful in general.

Robert De Niro was fantastic, as always. Though I am quite accustomed to his being outstanding, so I was most impressed with Christopher Walken’s performance. He was flawless. In the beginning, he was an innocent, kind young man. He looked like and portrayed the picture of youthful happiness and level headedness. His character’s life at the beginning of the film is on the verge of a bright future, so his eventual demise is most devastating. While fighting in Vietnam, his cheery disposition changes into a steely, silent, wiry one. The quick transition was harsh to see and reiterated the severity of the situation. John Savage was also wonderful as the Mike (DeNiro) and Nick’s (Walken) friend Steve. He was the somewhat dim-witted member of the trio and seems to be the most effected at first. He is also the first one to return to their small Pennsylvania town, however he comes back profoundly injured and retreats to a veteran’s hospital.

There were two scenes that I would consider the best of the film. One happens relatively early in the film. After Nick and Mike return from a hunting trip with friends, they all pile into the local bar and proceed in begin drinking. Then, the bar owner begins playing a somewhat melancholy tune on the piano. What was more touching was that instead of berating their friend for playing the somber tone, they sit quietly and thoughtfully listening. As the night is the eve of Nick and Mike’s leaving for war, the scene is unique and poignant.

The other scene with a particularly remember is when Nick Mike and Steve are being held captive by Vietnamese soldiers. They are below a deck. Above, the soldiers are forcing their captives to play Russian Roulette. Below, Steve is hysterical. Watching him is like watching a man crack right in front of your eyes. Mike is trying to calm him, while Nick is standing, quiet and pensive, in the corner. Although this is only the second wartime scene, it gives us a glimpse into how each man reacts to his circumstances. Mike became a protector; Steve cracked; Nick retreated into himself.

The film was amazing, albeit difficult to watch.

Photo Retrieved From

Sunday, August 9, 2009

#41 Schindler's List 1993

There was one time when I thought that Steven Spielberg was nothing really special. He made good actions flicks but his talent didn't really extend past that. Now, I want to slap myself for ever thinking that. I can only remember crying for a good reason twice while watching a film. They were both while watching Spielberg movies: Saving Private Ryan and this one, Schindler's List.

The story is extraordinary. I often like watching Holocaust movies. Of course not because there is anything good about the Holocaust but because, in some instances, such bravery came out of that era. In my mind those who resisted during that time are among the very bravest people in history.

The film was shot in almost complete black and white. If I had to guess, I would say it was shot in black and white to express the simple good vs evil nature of the film and war in general. The choice seems perfect for this film also becasue of the delosation depicted there in.

This film tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a Czech businessman in Germany, who saved over 1100 Jews from being put in Auschwitz. Liam Neeson plays Schindler beautifully. The change in the character couldn't have been easy and yet Neeson gave a wonderful performance of a progressing man. The interaction between Neeson and Ben Kingsley, who play Schindler's jewish accountant, was probably most telling. Their first scenes together were frosty, and as the film continued, they became esteem colleguges, if not friends. The most emotional scenes were among the last in the film. After having saved those he did, Schindler began counting ways that he could have saved more, lementing that he could not get more out of the camps. This scene marks the complete transformaton is the character, as he was a selfish and obvilious at the start of the film. The most emotional scene was the last on, when the real-life "Schindler's Jews," side by side with the actors that had played them each put a stone on Schindler's grave. There was not guessing what an impact this one man had on the world; his influence was right there in front of you.

Also fantanstic was the performance of Ralph Fiennes. He played the heartless leader of the ghetto, who shot people from his balcony before his morning coffee. However, unlike most villians, the as not robotic or devoid of all humanity. He was almost childlike. There is one scene in particular where Fiennes' Goeth is talking himself into raping his Jewish maid. He has feeling for he and wants her deep down, but can't get over his prejudice. "You're not a person in the strictest sense, but..." he says. In the end he decided to stick to his convictions and brutally beats her instead. The character is a dispictable one, but Fiennes' performance is brilliant in the way that he plays a multi-layered monster.

Simply Outstanding.

Photo Retrieved From

Saturday, August 8, 2009

#75 The Last Picture Show 1968

This was a very interesting movie. It's one of those film that, by the stills, seems like nothing special. This is because The Last Picture Show is a film that is wonderful because of the combination of good acting, good writing, and great directing. The movie is about the happenings among the residents of a small Texas town. It focuses on teenagers and those they interact with. Like most films about teenagers, at the beginning, everyone is basically happy, having fun and looking towards the future. Then things starts to unravel as some are led astray.
I really liked the direction (Peter Bogdanivich). He often used close ups of characters' faces to express emotion. His close ups did more than a couple pages of dialogue. The close ups in the sex scenes, interestingly, were the best. There obviously was little dialogue in these scenes and Bogdanvich's focusing on the characters rather than the appeal of sex was perfectly done, as it actually added to the film and the character development.
There was one scene in particular that intrigued me. It was a scene by a riverbank with Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Sam (Ben Johnson). Sonny and Sam are sitting by the lake. We see a shot of the landscape, and we appreciate the desolation of the scene which mirrors the desolation of the people in the film, but the shot is basically just a shot. Then, Sam tells Sonny about the significance of the lake, about the times he spent there with the love of his life. After he tells the story, there is another shot of the lake. And, with the second shot, the lake actually seemed to mean more to me. The second shot actually emits a greater importance than the first shot had. I don't know how Bigdanovich did it, but it was brilliant.

Great use of Ode to a Grecian Urn's "Beauty is truth, truth beauty/that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know" to start off the events of the film. Over all, there was great character development, although more often than not, the people in this town seemed to digress. It seems obvious that the awkward moments and rites of passage of being a teenager haven't changed int he past half century. Great performances from Timothy Bottoms and Cloris Leachman. A special treat to see young Jeff Bridges, Randy Quaid, and Cybill Shephard and younger Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, and Eileen Brennan.

Photo Retrieved From

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Beginning

For Christmas last year, I recieved a book called The Greatest Movies Ever by Gail Kinn and Jim Piazza. To be honest, I was inspired by Julie and Julia and decided to go through the book and blog about the films that I watch. These are the movies that those who know about film say are the best and I wanted to see what I would think. So, I watch and I write. If you want to comment, I would love to know what you think or if you have an suggestions for me. Here's the list....

*I may also add some random movies that I feel strongly about.

#56 The Night of the Hunter 1955

The Night of the Hunter is probably one of the most bizarre movies I have ever seen. It went from beening perfectly effective to being laughable and back. The concept of the film is intriguing and terrifying. It's about an intensely religious "preacher" who infiltrated the family of his cellmate in order to find the cellmate's hidden $10,000. The preacher, Harry Powell, is played by Robert Mitchem. The only other thing that I've seen Robert Mitchem in Cape Fear, so now I am convinced that he is the scariest person ever. His performance in perfect because plays that character as a ruthless, heartless man that really inspired fear every time he appeared on screen. Other stars were Shelley Winters, who played the mother of the family. Her performance was mediocre in my opinion, plus the character was 98% impossible to like. Lillian Gish portrayed a sort of adoptive mother for the children. She was wonderful as the rough around the edged mother of five. She was also the women in the movie that showed any strength. All the rest of the female characters were dim witted and flakey, so I was relieved to see that at least one woman in the film could hold her own. As for the direction, there were a few really excellent shots, particularly those that displayed the silhouette, which became a symbol of danger for the rest of the movie. There is one scene of Shelley Winters, who evenually gets killed and tied to a sunken Model T, floating still in the water with the fishing hook her son had used creeping around her body. The shot sends a shiver down your spine, its so creepy. But, the fisherman looking down from the boat can see the body as clearly as if it were in a clorinated pool instead of a dirty lake. I ended up laughing in spite of the horrible nature of the scene.
In conclusion, The Night of the Hunter was a good movie, but not one of the best I have ever seen by any means. Although Robert Mitchem's performance as a psychopathic, creepy, murderous step-dad was wonderful, Shelley Winters overacted ridiculously and was very annoying. There were also some reaction shots that were funny instead of severe. I'm glad I watched it becasue it was definitely like nothing I had seen before, but I won't be watching it again anytime soon.