Monday, 26 October 2009

Full Metal Jacket

Movie Review: Full Metal Jacket

Year of Release: 1987
Country of Origin: UK, USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey

Plot outline: Story follows a group of Marine recruits from the harrowing experience of boot camp to the horrifying battlefronts of Vietnam (IMDb).

What can be said about the Vietnam war that hasn't been said already? Full Metal Jacket answers that question, and demonstrates that there is always room for a great movie, even if the genre has already been thoroughly explored. Full Metal Jacket is really two different movies, with Matthew Modine's everyman character bridging the gap. Only three mild criticisms about the first half, which is superior to the second half. Out of the large number of marine recruits, only four (Joker, Snowball, Pyle and Cowboy) have speaking parts. Did the writers think we would get confused with too many characters, or was the producer unwilling to pay extras to speak? Also, Modine frequently does a John Wayne impersonation, which is not very good! Finally, Pyle has a weird character turn that doesn't seem likely despite all the abuse and brainwashing he has received. The second half of the movie has Modine in Vietnam, covering the war first as a journalist and then as a soldier. The early scenes of this second half are outstanding, but when Modine finally sees action the movie declines slightly, though still excellent. War is hell, but in this case not quite as interesting. One observation is that the American soldiers have great respect for the North Vietnam soldiers, but contempt and bitterness towards the people of South Vietnam. This may be due to its corruption, depicted through extended scenes of negotiations with prostitutes, or the notion that South Vietnam was not grateful for the "assistance" of Uncle Sam. Actually, given scenes of a soldier in a helicopter machine-gunning every Vietnamese he sees, of any age or gender, it is clear why the South Vietnamese weren't so grateful! Not the greatest war movie ever, but perhaps the best movie about Vietnam (Apocalypse Now was overlong and lacked necessary focus). (BK)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Tamarind Seed

Movie Review: The Tamarind Seed

Year of Release: 1974
Country of Origin: UK, USA
Director: Blake Edwards
Cast: Julie Andrews, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Dan O'Herlihy

Plot outline: Rival Cold War diplomats fall in love in the Caribbean (IMDb).

The Tamarind Seed is an espionage thriller. The plot is quite involved but seemed a bit too full of contrivances to really be taken as seriously as it wanted to be. The pacing was a bit problematic too - it just dragged on too slowly in parts. The final plot twist was utterly predictable, though kind of in a good way (you’ll see what I mean). The music was rather repetitive and thus mildly annoying rather than atmospheric. However, there were good aspects to it, and overall I did enjoy it. It focused more on the human element than many espionage movies do, which is good. Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif played their parts well, and there was a good supporting cast including Anthony Quayle (head of MI6) and Sylvia Sims. The main characters were quite interesting, though I never felt that the movie really delved beneath the surfaces of their characters. It might have worked better if it had taken itself a little less seriously - director Blake Edwards seems less at ease with this serious style of film, though it is still a creditable attempt (perhaps he is a victim of his own success in this regard). There were some decent action scenes and some intriguing moments, just too much not-very-much-going-on situations in between. Overall it did help the movie that both Andrews and Sharif have such a screen presence, though their characters did seem to lack a certain chemistry together. Overall The Tamarind Seed is a movie worth watching, but is a bit too slow-going to be truly great. (CD)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Match Point

Movie Review: Match Point

Year of Release: 2005
Country of Origin: UK, USA, Ireland, Russia
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode

Plot outline: At a turning point in his life, a former tennis pro falls for a femme-fatale who happens to be dating his friend and soon-to-be brother-in-law (IMDb).

Match Point is a surprising deviation from Woody Allen’s previous efforts. It’s more classic Hitchcock than Allen, which is in many ways refreshing. Allen’s work in recent years has left fans wanting better. If nothing else, Match Point proves that he is back on track. His screenplay flows quickly and flawlessly for the first two thirds, spoiled only by a slightly overblown, plot hole-filled ending that could leave moviegoers unsatisfied. Overall, though, his authentic dialogue and thoroughly developed characters more than make up for any shortcomings the last third may present. He does an excellent job saying what needs to be said and nothing more, crafting more of an implied back-story rather than spelling out every little detail. This helps move the story along swiftly. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has a ton of film credits, but he has never really been able to break out as a star. Match Point is his first real chance to show what he can do on a big stage. His character is a fish out of water, forced to weigh the merits of being happy in love with the lifestyle benefits of sticking with his high-class contacts. He doesn’t want to leave his secure life, but does he really want to be miserable and bored for the rest of his life? Rhys-Meyers does an outstanding job conveying Chris’ internal struggle as he tries to figure out a resolution to the problem. This is why we relate to the character instead of just thinking he’s a lowlife. Personally, I don’t get the love for Scarlett Johansson. Yes, she’s gorgeous, but the girl has a hard time acting. It’s not that she does a horrific job; it’s just that she’s clearly the weakest link of the four main players. Yet, she seems to be getting all the awards attention. Emily Mortimer’s work as Chloe - the longing wife who has no idea about her husband’s indiscretions - is much more convincing and worthy of attention. Compared to Allen’s more recent movies, Match Point is a masterpiece. Overall, though, it’s simply a solid movie. The drama is tense and the story of obsession, fate and luck is a convincing one. (BS)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Friday, 23 October 2009

Eyes Wide Shut

Movie Review: Eyes Wide Shut

Year of Release: 1999
Country of Origin: UK, USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Todd Field

Plot outline: Consumed by betrayal and jealousy, a wealthy Manhattan doctor becomes entangled in sexual adventures when his wife admits to having sexual fantasies about another man (IMDb).

Eyes Wide Shut quickly developed a strong following, mostly from admirers of legendary director Stanley Kubrick. The movie is less popular, however, than several of Kubrick's later movies, e.g. A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, and The Shining. Loosely based on the 1926 novel "
Traumnovelle" (Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler, the setting has been changed to modern-day New York City. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) is a successful doctor who learns that his beautiful wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) has been fantasizing about having sex with another man. Bill decides to get his revenge through some sexual adventures of his own, which soon get him into trouble after crashing a private party at a wealthy estate. The hotties that tempt Bill aren't offering him sex or comfort. They want more ... they want to take him away from Alice. Bill seems to know this, which is why he is unable to commit adultery. Bill and Alice are bound together by their young daughter, Helena. The oddest thing about Eyes Wide Shut is that the script is at heart a mystery, and throws many false clues at the viewer that turn out to be unrelated to the plot. This is truly unconventional film-making, a deliberate prevention of tying up the loose ends. These diversionary subplots are all sexually related. And the movie is quite forward in its depictions, retaining Kubrick's favoritism of art over commerce. (BK)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Verdict

Movie Review: The Verdict

Year of Release: 1982
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason

Plot outline: An alcoholic lawyer tries to redeem his reputation by taking on a difficult medical malpractice case (IMDb).

Despite being about a court case, The Verdict is really about a washed up attorney's decision to go to trial on behalf of his client, rather than taking the easy way out and accepting a cash settlement from the powerful defendant. David Mamet wrote and Sidney Lumet directed it. While the dialog has a number of good lines, the story is one that has been told many times before. However, Lumet has the insight to let Paul Newman and the supporting cast act and let his camera be an onlooker. The result is a tremendous character study of a man coming to terms with himself and ultimately redeeming himself against all odds. Sort of a new take on the tortoise and the hare fable. Newman is at his finest playing underdog Frank Galvin. One look at the battered, almost defeated alcoholic speaks volumes. Supporting actor Jack Warden also is spot on as Galvin's partner. James Mason is deliciously evil as the unscrupulous defense attorney who will do anything to win. While I can't speak to the accuracy of the legal proceedings, I can say that they were only a side issue in this story. The real question was, "Can a man long accustomed to his habits redeem himself?" Whether you believe the answer is yes or no, Lumet has made a convincing case for his view in The Verdict. (GC)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Citizen Kane

Movie Review: Citizen Kane

Year of Release: 1941
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane

Plot outline: Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final word (IMDb).

What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?

Perhaps that is the whole point of the story. We have all felt the pangs of failure, of regret, of things that we should have done, but left undone; of opportunities lost. So we sublimate our desires in a variety of ways. It's a thing common to humans. Kidding ourselves, we project our ambitions on another, perhaps our mate or our child. Or perhaps we become a collector like Kane, trying to fill our frustrated emptiness with possessions beyond number. No matter what our personal mechanism for coping with these human inadequacies, it all amounts to the same thing; when we die, we are alone. Our personal triumphs or failures are no more or less than those of the richest tycoon or the poorest beggar. They become the winding sheet that accompanies us to our grave and are as soon forgotten.

The most auspicious debut movie ever for a director is also the most influential and discussed movie of all time, and also one that was controversial due to its stinging fictionalized representation of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. The 25-year-old Orson Welles innovatively directs, writes and stars in Citizen Kane. The film was noted for so many innovative features that are now regularly part of a modern film, that the film itself can still be presented to film schools as 'a film on how to make a film.' The innovations include such things as stylistic camera movement, unconventional lighting - including chiaroscuro and a novel use of shadows, following in the tradition of German Expressionists, depth-focus and angle shots, over-lapping dialogue, flashbacks, non-linear narrative, frequent use of dissolves, long takes and many other marvelous technical feats. Welles assumes most of the credit, but I would think cinematographer Gregg Toland had more than some minor part in the innovations. The movie is a masterpiece that has a certain continual fascination despite its dazzling technical achievements that encourages repeated viewings and always seems to bring out something seen in a different light or something brand new. It's an enigmatic movie that invites comparisons to Welles' own character, and one that invites further questioning about such things as art, authorship, fakery and filmmaking. Citizen Kane should be required viewing by anybody interested in film. It shows the results of a prodigal life with many material benefits yet yielding very little spiritual fruit. (DS, GC)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Send Me No Flowers

Movie Review: Send Me No Flowers

Year of Release: 1964
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Norman Jewison
Cast: Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall

Plot outline: When he mistakenly thinks he's dying, a hypochondriac tries to choose his wife's next husband (IMDb).

Send Me No Flowers, the third and final pairing of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, is unquestionably the duo's least effective and most uneven effort, as Norman Jewison - working from Julius Epstein's screenplay - has infused the proceedings with a plodding sensibility that's compounded by an egregiously overlong running time. The premise is certainly not at fault; it's the sort of wacky setup that could (and should) have resulted in a fun and frenetic romantic comedy, but his refusal to keep things moving at a brisk clip transforms the movie into a distinctly interminable experience (with the stagnant and needlessly drawn-out third act only exacerbating matters). Hudson and Day are fantastic together, of course, and Tony Randall does his usual scene-stealing thing - yet there's no doubt that Send Me No Flowers ultimately comes off as a desperate attempt at recapturing Pillow Talk's charming and effortlessly delightful atmosphere. (DN)

My judgement: *1/2 out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Lady from Shanghai

Movie Review: The Lady from Shanghai

Year of Release: 1947
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders

Plot outline: A romantic drifter gets caught between a corrupt tycoon and his voluptuous wife (IMDb).

The Lady from Shanghai is a complicated mess, but it’s a treat to watch. Even for a film noir, the plot is too full of twists, turns and triple-crosses. By the time the whole case is laid out during the movie’s climax, it’s easy not to care too much about what happened. Through it all, though, Orson Welles weaves a compelling narrative, and his distinctive visual style drives the movie. Yet where he succeeds in directorial prowess, he totally fails in accent affectation - his Irish brogue is fairly embarrassing, and its necessity to the story is dubious. Rita Hayworth’s Elsa is a fine femme fatale, but has very little to do until the very end of the movie. Some of the most fun comes from watching Elsa, Bannister and Grisby bicker aboard the yacht. As Mike looks on, the three trade verbal barbs that are some of the movie’s best dialogue, including Mike’s oddly poetic speech about sharks. The Lady from Shanghai delivers the goods during the last 10 minutes, when Elsa, Bannister and Mike chase each other through a funhouse. It’s a thrilling, disorienting sequence that makes sitting through Welles’ terrible accent totally worthwhile. (LC)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Trial

Movie Review: The Trial (Le procès)

Year of Release: 1962
Country of Origin: France, Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia
Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Romy Schneider, Orson Welles, Akim Tamiroff

Plot outline: In this adaptation of Franz Kafka's classic, a man in a nameless country stands trial for an unnamed crime (IMDb).

Orson Welles chose the project partly because it suited his subtly surreal directorial style, and partly because the source material was in the public domain. The adaptation is every bit as strange as expected: nosy flatfoots out of a 1940s film noir merge with outrageously promiscuous femme fatales and faceless bureaucrats, collectively powerful but individually impotent. Corruption and degradation is everywhere except in our affronted protagonist, whose refusal to play along may be the nameless crime that he has been accused of. The Trial doesn't work as a black comedy. Yet it is surprisingly watchable; the story almost mesmerizing with its legal conundrums that defy logic yet sometimes seem to reflect reality. Welles himself plays The Advocate, a dissipated lawyer who seems to be complicit with the court to turn the defendants into pathetic sheep stripped of their manhood. Perkins' Joseph K has freedom of movement, but is always under surveillance by someone belonging to the conspiracy. The sets are the real star of the movie. Cavernous rooms are used to depict a business filled with endless rows of automaton typists, and a courtroom where Joseph's show trial has become a concert-styled mass entertainment. Hallways wind everywhere but lead nowhere; rooms are stuffed to the roof with bulging folders that no one ever reads. The studio of painter Titorelli (William Chappell) is made up of cheap plywood separated widely enough for a mob of insane schoolgirls to look in on his every movement. One ceiling is a ramshackle collection of misjointed lumber planks. While the script is sometimes lacking, the visuals are always unusual enough to be of interest. Those enamored with the trappings of The Trial ignore its problems. The surreal nature of the characters doesn't always explain their motivations. The same can be said for the lack of continuity, and the unsatisfying ending. (BK)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Movie Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo)

Year of Release: 1966
Country of Origin: Italy, Spain, Germany
Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Eli Wallach, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef

Plot outline: Three men seek hidden loot during the Civil War (IMDb).

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is an electric, surreal western that stands out as one of the best ever made. Though it’s set during the Civil War, the movie doesn’t feel like a historical epic, largely because it doesn’t look like one. Rather, watching it is like stepping into an alternate world - a nightmarish, apocalyptic vision of the American west transplanted to the deserts of Europe that mixes authenticity with fantasy to create something wholly original. This is the vision of Sergio Leone: a world without time, caught in Civil War that will never end, and facing a future that will never come. Against this backdrop, Leone follows the converging stories of the three titular characters, each elevated to near mythical status. It’s a very visceral experience, highlighted by majestic yet gritty cinematography and punctuated by Ennio Morricone’s now legendary score. This, more than anything, is why, despite it’s nearly three hour running time, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly holds up so well to repeat viewings and ranks as one of the best western movies of all time. (FML)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Thursday, 8 October 2009

For a Few Dollars More

Movie Review: For a Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in più)

Year of Release: 1965
Country of Origin: Italy, Spain, Germany
Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè, Mara Krupp

Plot outline: Two bounty hunters join forces to bring an outlaw to justice (IMDb).

For a Few Dollars More is the second in Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” following A Fistful of Dollars. Both the leads, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, manage to make every little thing they do, be it lighting a cigarette or sipping a drink, seem super-cool-badass and the movie is a joy to watch because of it. Unfortunately, Gian Maria Volontè can’t quite match the intense charisma of Eastwood and Van Cleef in his role as the lead villain. It’s a real shame, made even more frustrating by the presence of Klaus Kinski as one of the henchman. Kinski, in his all too brief scenes, easily matches Eastwood and Van Cleef in terms of screen presence and would have been a much better choice for the lead villain. (Granted, you’d have to rewrite the part as Kinski can’t really pass for a Mexican bandit, but that’s not crucial to the story.) Compounding the weak casting is the long running time. At 130 minutes, the movie simply drags whenever Eastwood or Van Cleef isn’t on the screen. Thankfully this isn’t often, but it is enough that you notice. (FML)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A Fistful of Dollars

Movie Review: A Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari)

Year of Release: 1964
Country of Origin: Italy, Spain, Germany
Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volontè, Wolfgang Lukschy

Plot outline: A mysterious stranger plays dueling families against each other in a Mexican border town (IMDb).

From this tiny germ of a story was established the mythic persona of The Man With No Name who would become indelibly identified with Clint Eastwood and rocket him to stardom. As the prototype of Sergio Leone's westerns, A Fistful of Dollars shows the embryonic growth of Leone's vision, Morricone's scoring, and Eastwood's acting. Leone's widescreen compositions of the bleak and dirty West are decent and the beginnings of his claustrophobic cutting between the characters' eyes can be seen. Leone also switches viewpoints with his lens showing the death throes from the point of view of dying villain Gian Maria Volontè after being shot by Eastwood. Ennio Morricone, sounding heavily influenced by veteran composer Elmer Bernstein, scores an eclectic number of snippets of spare solo instrumentation, ranging from guitar, harmonica, piano, Jews harp, and whistles, occasionally breaking into crescendos of fully orchestrated music. Morricone's efforts resulted in very memorable musical ideas that would be more fully developed in his later works. Eastwood was the only recognizable actor in the bunch, at least from an American viewpoint. Most of the other performances ranged from fair to middlin. As the father of his success, Eastwood dedicated his 1993 masterpiece Unforgiven to Sergio Leone and Don Siegel - Dirty Harry (1971). (GC)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A Bridge Too Far

Movie Review: A Bridge Too Far

Year of Release: 1977
Country of Origin: USA, UK
Director: Richard Attenborough
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox

Plot outline: An historic telling of the Allied forces’ failed attempt to capture several bridges in Germany near the end of World War II (IMDb).

There’s a lot of good stuff here. The all-star cast hits (James Caan, Michael Caine and Sean Connery) more often than it misses (Gene Hackman and Ryan O’Neal) and even knocks one clear out of the park (Robert Redford). The production is fantastic, with great location scenery and authentic vehicles and equipment, and the battle scenes are tense, pulse-pounding thrillers. But then there’s that last 30 minutes. For the first two hours or so, the movie is essentially a docu-drama style look at Operation Market Garden, from its initial planning stages to its execution and failure. Small dramatic arcs, like short stories, interrupt the proceedings from time to time, such as James Caan’s rescuing an injured friend, but for the most part we’re a dispassionate observer. Yet, in the final quarter, the director attempts to ground the story through the eyes of a doctor, played by Laurence Olivier and a woman, played by Liv Ullmann, who are manning a makeshift hospital. The thing is, it doesn’t work! We see dozens and dozens of wounded soldiers, but they’re nameless faces. We see the bombed out buildings, but they’re just smoldering rubble. We have no personal connection to this death and devastation so rather than feel the emotional weight it’s meant to impart, we’re just bored. In the end, the movie, like the mission, was flawed from the beginning. It told a story with no end, a mission with a great initial investment that never paid off. (FML)

My judgement: ** out of 4 stars

Monday, 5 October 2009

Viva Zapata!

Movie Review: Viva Zapata!

Year of Release: 1952
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Elia Kazan
Cast: Marlon Brando, Jean Peters, Anthony Quinn

Plot outline: The rise and tragic end of the rebel Indian leader Emiliano Zapata (IMDb).

Before Hollywood's acceptance of global cinema producers took no care in regards to accuracy or authenticity when it came to telling history. And the idea of Marlon Brando playing the Mexican revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata is perhaps a head-turner now, but back then, it was common for Americans to put on face makeup and butcher the legacies of history’s great figures. Viva Zapata! is not the definitive historical account of the great 20th century revolutionary, or even a passing resemblance of history, let’s judge the movie as a piece of Hollywood entertainment with the era in proper context. With that said, I don’t know much about Zapata’s mannerisms or personality or looks, but Brando’s Zapata surely retains the nobility, courage and reluctant hero qualities of the real life man. The movie is all about Brando. It was his movie after A Streetcar Named Desire, his mumbling was still pronounced and almost incomprehensive at times. But that’s the fun of watching Brando. He chews the scenery and naturally draws all his attention to himself. From 1951 to 1954, Marlon Brando redefined acting - four movies in four years garnered him Best Actor nominations (A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, Julius Caesar and On the Waterfront) and a win for On the Waterfront. Watching his performance is like watching those defining moments in cinema history - the rulebook being re-written right before our eyes. To give Elia Kazan credit, for the most part he does the job admirably, his dramatic compositions, staging for action and fighting are worthy of John Ford’s work. Unfortunately he doesn't flesh out any of the other characters. Despite the acclaim for Anthony Quinn's work, he is considerably underused and is relegated to sidekick only. (AB)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 4 October 2009

On the Waterfront

Movie Review: On the Waterfront

Year of Release: 1954
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Elia Kazan
Cast: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger

Plot outline: A young stevedore takes on the mobster who rules the docks (IMDb).

In many ways, On the Waterfront is a movie about redemption and standing up against the wrongs with the world. The screenplay is based from a series of articles by Malcolm Johnson about the dirty corruption that is going on in the docks from mob-controlled unions. It is filled with great dialogue, amazing development, and lots of heavy drama that goes on throughout the movie. Yet, it's Elia Kazan's direction that really shapes the story into something far more powerful with its imagery and grittiness. Shot on location in Hoboken, New Jersey, there's a beauty and ugliness to the location as he doesn't sugarcoat it one bit. At the same time, the camera is engaging with its close-up of characters and the locations they're in. With striking compositions that are memorable, Kazan's direction is definitely top-notch. What he does overall is create a movie that is engrossing in every scene and performance that goes on as he makes a movie that is truly solid. The casting is brilliant. Lee J. Cobb is magnificent as Johnny Friendly, the no-holds-barred, hard-talking mob boss who wants to have total control of everything. Rod Steiger is excellent as Charley, Friendly's right hand man. Karl Malden is brilliant as tough but sympathetic Father Barry. His best scene is in the ship where he talks about a man's death and the monologue he brings with such authority and passion. In her debut, Eva Marie Saint is great as Edie Doyle. A determined young woman seeking justice for her brother's death while finding the soft, caring side of Terry Malloy underneath his quick-talking, street-wise demeanor. Saint's performance is dazzling as a woman who is a bit tough but also who doesn't know much about the dark world of the streets. Finally, there's Marlon Brando in one of his iconic performances of his career. In the role of the tormented Terry Malloy, Brando exudes all of the charm, wit, and struggle of that character along with someone who is troubled by demons and the fact that people call him a bum. Brando's performance is filled with a tough guy attitude who can talk fast, be tough, and not be someone to messed with. Yet, there's a softness in him as he deals with guilt and the fact that there's someone like Edie who he wants to connect with. Brando has great rapport with all of his co-stars while he manages to make Terry Malloy an unlikely hero. What Brando brings to the screen is charisma and a vulnerability that makes him connect with the audience as he has one of the movie's most famous lines in cinema about what he could have been. It's truly one of the most marvelous performances captured in cinema. (SF)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars

Friday, 2 October 2009

La dolce vita

Movie Review: La dolce vita (The Sweet Life)

Year of Release: 1960
Country of Origin: Italy, France
Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Alain Cuny, Walter Santesso

Plot outline: Young writer Marcello struggles to find his place in the world, torn between the allure of Rome's elite social scene and the stifling domesticity at home (IMDb).

La dolce vita received universal acclaim upon its release in 1960, and in retrospect it best represents its director. In this masterpiece, Federico Fellini achieved the ideal balance: between social observation and unconscious imagery, between artistic discipline and freedom, and between the neo-realism of 1950s Italian cinema and the orgiastic flights of his later work. In its time, it shocked people. The Catholic Church condemned it. It was considered a dirty movie because it was frank about sex and included nudity, albeit brief. Divine decadence may have been restricted under the Hollywood Production Code, but European filmmakers operated under no such constraint. Today, La dolce vita is hardly shocking, except that it's shockingly good. The movie's cautionary aspect is even emphasized by the passing years: Its empty glamour is not unlike our empty glamour, and its media and celebrity-drenched world is nothing compared to our own now. The moral journey that is "la dolce vita" is that of Marcello, a strangely passive man with intense but vague artistic and spiritual longings. It is Marcello's blessing and his curse that he's handsome enough to be passive. He just has to hang around in the right places -- on Rome's Via Venetia, mainly -- and life and women come to him. The movie's structure is audacious. At nearly three hours, it's made up almost entirely of disparate incidents, each covering an individual night and each ending at dawn. The unifying element is Marcello and his progress as a man. Fellini gambled that the incidents would be fascinating in and of themselves and that Marcello -- handsome but hopeless -- would be sympathetic and compelling. He was right. On many of Marcello's journeys, he's accompanied by aggressive photographer Paparazzo whose name in the plural became synonymous with heartless, intrusive celebrity parasites. La dolce vita is always two things at once: It's a wallow in decadence disguised as a moral saga, and it's a moral saga disguised as a wallow in decadence. It's always both, and that tension is always there, within the film and the filmmaker. Fellini critiques Roman decadence but offers no alternative but boredom; he exposes the frivolity and meaningless of it all, while offering no higher vision. Accordingly, the movie can be seen as an essentially despairing work, but it certainly doesn't feel that way, because the filmmaking is so exuberant. La dolce vita is a bittersweet masterpiece that grows more poignant with time (MLS)

My judgement: **** out of 4 stars