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