Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008)

Robert Wise's 1951 film The Day The Earth Stood Still is an acknowledged classic, a stirring sci-fi parable of Cold War paranoia. It was responsible for the creation of the iconic silver-steeled robot Gort, and the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto," one of the most recognizable quotes in movie history. Director Scott Derrickson's 2008 remake updates the story to the present day, and focuses on an environmental message. Needless to say, any remake faces quite high expectations from the original's legions of admirers. I must admit I feared the worst when I saw the trailer, which emphasized shots of massive computer-generated destruction more than the characters. Would the original's personal, human story be compromised for special effects? Well, the answer is yes...and no. There is a human element to the film, and talented actors like Jennifer Connelly and Kathy Bates give the film some weight. But in the end The Day The Earth Stood Still turns into a rather predictable - and boring - sci-fi disaster movie.

Jennifer Connelly is Helen Benson, an esteemed scientist who is part of a team called in to investigate an alien aircraft that is about to land in Manhattan. It arrives in Central Park in the form of a giant luminous sphere, and out comes a massive metallic robot, and an alien named Klaatu. GORT, as he is so nicknamed by the military, is detained, while Klaatu is taken to a hospital where he sheds his alien outer layer to become, well, Keanu Reeves. Although he asks to speak to the United Nations, Klaatu's request is denied. He eventually escapes, along with Helen and her stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith), and they spend the rest of the film on the run from the military. Soon, Klaatu's message becomes clear: his race will exterminate the humans to preserve the planet's capacity for sustaining life.

The cast of The Day The Earth Stood Still deserves far better than the film's script gives them. Jennifer Connelly's leading lady looks have served her well in movies like Dark City and Hulk, but she is above all an extremely talented actress. Her role in The Day The Earth Stood Still is surprisingly unglamorous - her Helen is a weary widow striving to make ends meet, and I believed every minute of it. Kathy Bates and John Cleese also show up - Cleese is mostly wasted in a cameo as a Nobel Prize winning scientist, but Bates gives an entertaining performance as a very commanding Secretary of Defense. As for Reeves, the best I can say is that he doesn't embarrass himself - most of the time. The performance calls for being emotionless, and to that extent Reeves succeeds. But not surprisingly, it is quite a dull performance.

The film is technically well-made - visually appealing, with a few outstanding setpieces. The first sequence, set in 1928, is intriguing and mysterious and captured my attention immediately. I was also impressed with the first arrival of the sphere in New York - a faithful, atmospheric recreation of the scene from the 1951 film. But the filmmakers don't know how to handle Gort, perhaps the most memorable character from the original. In the original, he was played by a man in a suit; in the remake he is a Godzilla-sized, computer-generated creation. The effect is not convincing, and the scenes with Gort are often unintentionally laughable - as are the military attack scenes, which interrupt the storyline and seem to belong in another film entirely.

Still, I must respect the film for keeping the main focus on the characters, as the 1951 version did. They may not be the most interesting characters - Jacob, Helen's stepson, is a particularly contrived and annoying character - but the cast does their best with the material. Only in the last half-hour or so does the film lose the human focus, as the director indulges in special effects extravaganzas showing buildings and stadiums being destroyed.

And then there is the message. I have no problem with an environmental message - my favorite film of 2008, Wall-E, had a strong environmental message but displayed it in an intelligent and elegant manner. In contrast, the message of The Day The Earth Stood Still is cumbersome to the story as well as being downright silly. The 1951 film was very humanistic, calling for an end to war and violence. The 2008 version seems to suggest that if we compromise the existence of other species on the planet, we deserve to die. I also find some hypocrisy in a movie that advocates environmental awareness but has blatant product placement for McDonalds.

The Day The Earth Stood Still is a competent but misguided remake of a classic. Despite the efforts of an able cast, and a few memorable sequences, the film ultimately falls on its face, with a preachy message and far too much emphasis on action. It is not a terrible film by any means, and might stand up better if not compared to the original. But any remake has to be compared to the original, and there really is no comparison. The main problem plaguing this version of The Day The Earth Stood Still is that it has no earthly reason to exist.

Verdict: B -

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Darling Clementine (1946)

There is a certain old-fashioned sensibility about John Ford's My Darling Clementine that is charming in this day and age. The few modern Westerns that do exist tend to be grim and serious and violent, but My Darling Clementine is an entirely different beast. It is an almost genteel film, where the characters and comedic moments take precedence over the violence. I mean this only as a compliment; John Ford wrote the book on how to make Westerns, and by all accounts this is one of his finest. While not as serious or artful a work as The Searchers, the movie is a near-perfect example of studio film-making by one of the great American directors.

Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp, who along with his three brothers is hustling cattle to California. They decide to stop at a small town named Tombstone for the night, leaving behind the youngest brother, James, to watch the cattle. Upon their return, the Earp brothers find James dead and the cattle stolen. Wyatt decides to take the job of marshall in Tombstone, in an attempt to bring law to the untamed town and to avenge his brother's death. Soon enough, though, he runs into trouble with the local powers, like Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) and Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan), both of whom Wyatt suspects might have been involved in James' death.

Intercut with all of this is the love story between Wyatt and Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), a schoolteacher from Boston who arrives in Tombstone chasing her old flame Doc Holliday. Clementine, though, has deceptively little screen time in the film that is named after her. She arrives almost 40 minutes into the film, and shares very few scenes with Fonda. Still, her presence is key. Her shy, sweet character is contrasted with the saucy yet disloyal Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), a saloon singer and Holliday's current plaything. Clementine also gives the film its emotional center, and despite little screen time, provides the film with one of its most memorable scenes. At a community dance, Wyatt seems unsure whether to ask Clementine to dance, but eventually sums up the courage, tossing aside his hat in resolve and bringing her to the floor. What is at first a stiff and awkward dance turns into a dance of joy as the town's residents cheer on the marshall and his "lady fair." It is a simple and joyous scene, the kind that would never be found in today's Westerns.

My Darling Clementine tells an essentially violent story of revenge and corruption, though, and there are many of the typical Western conventions - bar fights, shootouts, riots, and wonderfully politically incorrect dialogue ("What kind of town is this anyway, selling liquor to Indians?"). But still, Ford is more interested in the characters than in any conventions or setpieces. The climatic gunfight at the OK Corral is over quickly, and rather forgettable. Rather, the most memorable moments in My Darling Clementine are the simplest ones - like the dance scene, or the scene where an actor drunkenly recites from Hamlet in a bar, or Wyatt's farewell to Clementine at the end of the film. The beautiful vistas of Monument Valley, as photographed by Joseph MacDonald, are also impressive.

The story of Wyatt Earp has been retold numerous times in various films. Ford's was not even the first one - that distinction goes to 1939's Frontier Marshall. Since then, films like Gunfight at the OK Corral, Tombstone, Doc, and Wyatt Earp have all been versions of the same tale. From what I gather, these films are more historically accurate than Ford's version. But I would be surprised if any is as effective and enjoyable a piece of cinema as My Darling Clementine. The movie is lush, gorgeously photographed, joyful, and entertaining from beginning to end. Is it a fictionalized, inaccurate, sentimental piece of romanticism? Absolutely. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Verdict: A

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Bride Wore Black (1968)

What happens when one acclaimed director deliberately styles his film after another? That is one question answered by The Bride Wore Black, François Truffaut's tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. Although the two directors worked in very different genres and styles (not to mention countries), they had great admiration for each other's work - Truffaut even published a book of his interviews with Hitchcock. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Truffaut decided to film a deliberately Hitchcockian thriller. The resulting film is not as inventive or influential as some of Truffaut's other films, like The 400 Blows or Shoot the Piano Player, nor does it rise to the heights of Hitchcock's greatest films. But it is a perfectly effective and clever little film about a woman set on revenge at any cost.

We are first introduced to the titular bride, Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau), when her mother foils her clumsy suicide attempt. Soon after, she leaves on a revenge mission to kill the five men who accidentally shot her husband. This motive is not revealed immediately - Truffaut makes an effective use of flashbacks at different stages in the story to slowly reveal the connections between the men, and to display the awful truth behind what happened that wedding day.

Hitchcock's influence is readily apparent throughout The Bride Wore Black. The plot itself is pure Hitchcock, and Jeanne Moreau's icy protagonist (or antagonist, depending on how you see it) would be perfectly at home in any of his films. The movie is also stylistically similar to much of Hitchcock's work, using bright colors and employing a Bernard Herrmann score (Herrmann was Hitchcock's main composer). Individual scenes, as well, struck me as possible homages. The first victim's death (by plunging from a high building) is rather clumsily filmed, but no doubt inspired by Vertigo. And a scene at a classical concert struck me as a possible nod to the climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much. But beyond any superficial homages, The Bride Wore Black is most closely related to Hitchcock in the way it finds the terrifying in the ordinary. Like Hitchcock, Truffaut establishes his characters very slowly. A scene at the beginning, where two friends are conversing about women and love, reminded me of The Birds, which is basically a romance story before the bird attacks ravage the town. Similarly, Truffaut establishes a seemingly banal setting and then startles us by introducing violence.

The Bride Wore Black may be effective as an homage, but it is not as effective as a thriller unto itself. At times the film limps on rather slowly without much of a point. There is one scene that achieves a high level of suspense, but there are few genuinely frightening moments. Perhaps I am wrong, though, in even classifying the film as a thriller. One could easily argue that the movie is a black comedy. Many scenes have an ironic or even comic overtone, particularly the brilliant final scene.

The Bride Wore Black is a modest little film. It was not career-defining for Truffaut, nor will it be life-changing for anybody. It was, perhaps, more of an experiment for Truffaut than anything. But the film has its fair share of merits. It is an entertaining revenge film, anchored by a strong lead performance, capped off with a nice dose of black humor.

Verdict: B

Monday, December 22, 2008

L'avventura (1960)

L'avventura (English title: The Adventure) is a strange title for any film. It is certainly a nondescript title, and it implies a sort of light-hearted escapism. But Michelangelo Antonioni's 1960 film offers nothing of the sort. It is a film where the "adventure" - namely the disappearance of a wealthy socialite on an island - plays second fiddle to the characters and their relationships. This deception initially led to a vitriolic public reaction, and the film was booed by the audience when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1960. But two years later it was voted by Sight & Sound as the second greatest film of all time, and it is regarded as a milestone in foreign cinema today.

The story begins with two wealthy friends, Anna (Lea Massari) and Claudia (Monica Vitti) leaving to go on a yacht trip. Anna brings her boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), whom she feels frustrated with and distant from. The three depart, along with two other couples, for their excursion. After making a stop at an island, the company soon discovers that Anna is missing. They search the island and call in the police, but to no avail. After a few days worrying, everyone goes on with their lives - including Sandro and Claudia, who are beginning to fall in love.

L'avventura never resolves the mystery of what happened to Anna. It doesn't need to, because that is not what the film is about. Anna's disappearance only sets the stage to illuminate the shallowness of the main characters' lives. Days after his girlfriend's disappearance, Sandro and Claudia share a kiss, and proclaim their love for one another. In the same period of time, Giulia (Dominique Blanchar), another friend of Anna's, begins to crack jokes about her disappearance. She has also begun dating a 17 year-old painter, seemingly bored with her previous squeeze, an older man named Corrado. Immediately we begin to understand one of the points of L'avventura - friendships mean nothing to these people. They lead perfectly comfortable yet incredibly empty lives. Pauline Kael put it better than I ever could: "Too shallow to be truly lonely, they are people trying to escape their boredom by reaching out to one another and finding only boredom once again.'' In this way, the themes of L'avventura are very similar to those in La Dolce Vita, another Italian film released the same year.

L'avventura is also notable for its beautiful cinematography. In fact, the film won a special jury prize at Cannes in part for "the beauty of its images." Yet the cinematography did not inspire me in the way that films like Lawrence of Arabia do. It is perfectly adequate, even above average, but I think almost anyone can make shots of Italian islands and crashing waves look appealing. Few images stayed with me, with the exception of the last scene. It is an exquisite, silent scene that relies on the power of images rather than dialogue to bring the film full circle. That is the second reason why the film won the jury prize - it was cited for the creation of a "new cinematic language." The film did not rely on plot gimmicks, narration, or even much dialogue to tell its story, preferring instead to focus on the images.

L'avventura is a very accomplished and influential film, but it did not resonate with me the way that La Dolce Vita did. I found La Dolce Vita a more profound film, with deeper themes. Yet a comparison between the two may be unfair, and I have found that many foreign films require at least two viewings before full appreciation sets in. On its own terms, L'avventura is a fascinating and intelligent film as well as an important landmark of cinema.

Verdict: B+

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Raging Bull (1980)

We all know the classic underdog story - a young, up-and-coming athlete with a troubled past upsets a formidable opponent to be crowned the new champion. Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull turns this formula on its head, depicting a talented boxer who wins the championship but alienates his friends and family, eventually becoming a fat drunkard who performs terrible nightclub acts. Raging Bull is a biopic, telling the true story of Jake LaMotta, but it is so much more than a simple memoir. It is a story about failure to communicate, and about sexism, and about family. It is also a textbook example of acting, editing, and cinematography - all in service of a deeply human story.

After a brief scene in 1964, in which LaMotta (Robert De Niro) rehearses his nightclub routine, the film cuts to a fight in 1941 between LaMotta and Jimmy Reeves. Immediately we can see that Scorsese is not interested in toning down the violence. The fights in the film are brutal - blood flies, sweat drips, smoke drifts, and lightbulbs flash. At times, unconventional sound effects like swooping birds are used as LaMotta closes in on his prey. Slow-motion is used to great effect, and the sheer violence is striking - not only for the combatants, but for the fight's audience as well. After a controversial decision in the first fight, a brawl erupts in the audience that culminates in several women being trampled by men. In another fight, LaMotta throws a punch that sends blood splattering into several spectators' faces. But even in their brutality, many of the images in the fight scenes have a certain beauty to them. In one slo-mo shot, water is poured over LaMotta and it gently cascades downward. In another shot, the rope boundaries of the ring literally drip with blood. These masterful, unrelenting sequences lose little of their effectiveness today, even though they have been aped countless times in other films.

Soon after the first fight, Jake's brother and manager Joey (Joe Pesci) introduces him to Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), a beautiful 15 year-old whom Jake becomes infatuated with, despite having a wife at home. Jake's relationship with his wife is abusive - he screams at her for overcooking his steak, throws tables around the house, and threatens her. His relationship with Vickie is downright gentle compared to his abusive relationship with his wife. It is only when he actually marries Vickie that his attitude changes. Jake expects Vickie to obey him blindly - to fetch him coffee and be a nice little housewife with no social life of her own. When his brother Joey asks Jake to apologize to Vickie, Jake can't do it. He doesn't understand that Vickie feels like a prisoner, and instead of apologizing he just starts making out with her. To Jake Vickie is just an object, a disposable pleasure rather than a serious partner. Needless to say, the marriage turns to distrust, abuse, and eventually separation by the end of the movie.

Another pivotal relationship in the film is the one between Jake and his brother Joey. On the surface, the two are very similar, with hot tempers and loud mouths. But Joey is fundamentally different from his brother. He cares more deeply about his family and is far more reasonable than Jake. At one point, though, Joey's temper gets the better of him, and he gets into a huge bar brawl with a man he suspects of sleeping with Vickie. It is abundantly clear that Joey deeply loves his brother, but it seems that the only way he can express this love is through blind rage. The same is true of Jake. In one scene, Jake has the preposterous idea that Joey slept with Vickie, and he barges into his house to fight him. When Vickie later urges Jake to apologize for this misunderstanding, Jake can't do it - even over the phone. There is a real inability to communicate between these two characters, and by the end of the film Jake has completely alienated Joey.

De Niro is fascinating to watch in the scenes that depict Jake's later years. It is well-known cinematic lore that De Niro put on a significant amount of weight to play this role, but the performance goes beyond physical transformation. De Niro perfectly expresses a sort of phoned-in happiness that masks a layer of sorrow. In his later years, Jake fools himself into believing that he is happy, when it is clear to everyone else that he is not. We first see the older Jake in 1956 Miami being photographed for a newspaper. He sits by a pool, explaining why he is happiest in retirement - how he doesn't have to worry about weight and can spend more time with his family. Minutes later, of course, we see a drunken Jake telling unfunny jokes at his nightclub, we see Vickie finally announce that she will leave him, and we see Jake thrown into a jail cell, where he smashes his head against the wall, screaming "Why? Why? Why?" And in the final scene, before he goes on stage, he addresses himself in the mirror: "Go get 'em, champ." He still thinks he's a champion, even when no one else does.

I notice that I have spent a lot of time describing the characters and relationships of Raging Bull without critiquing it very much. But there is really not a whole lot to criticize about the movie. My only gripe, perhaps is that the film feels disjointed at times. The storyline skips years at a time without seeming like any time has passed at all. This is particularly problematic for Cathy Moriarty, who plays the crucial role of Vickie. The actress, who was 19 at the time of shooting, seems far older than 15 in the early scenes and far younger than 30 or so in the later scenes. Still, her performance itself cannot be faulted.

Raging Bull is truly a film where all of the elements come together. De Niro is rightly praised for his performance, but the film's success belongs equally to Scorsese, to the other cast members, to the screenwriters, to the editor, and to the cinematographer. It is rightly revered as a masterpiece, and 28 years later it regularly tops lists of the greatest films of all time. Funny, then, to think that Raging Bull nearly never got made. Scorsese repeatedly turned it down, and fell far behind schedule during production. But he prevailed, and delivered a true masterpiece.

Verdict: A

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Cool Hand Luke is about a young war veteran who is forced into a chain gang for a petty crime. There, he is tormented and abused by the tyrants who run the place. By this description alone, one could safely assume that Cool Hand Luke is a tragic, gritty drama. Yet I found the film strangely optimistic, a stirring affirmation of the human spirit in the face of adversity. And who better to embody such a spirit than Paul Newman, who exudes both a tough manliness and tender humanity in the role of Luke. It is perhaps his most fondly remembered role, and not without reason. Newman is Luke, and to imagine anyone else in the role is nearly impossible.

Lucas Jackson is first arrested at the beginning of the film for cutting off the heads of parking meters (as he explains later, "Small town, not much to do in the evenin'"). For this petty crime, Luke is forced to join a chain gang for two years. His fellow convicts, particularly a character named Dragline (George Kennedy) are at first put off by his status as a war vet and his outspoken attitude. But they begin to admire him for his bravery and free spirit at the same time that the prison wardens begin to punish him for it. "What we have here is...failure to communicate," Strother Martin's Captain famously tells Luke. But what they really have is a clash of wills, a clash of ideals, a clash of attitudes that eventually leads to untold suffering for Luke.

Cool Hand Luke has a strongly anti-authoritarian message. The prison guards are, for the most part, portrayed as sadistic tyrants who are obsessed with rules. One intimidating character, referred to as the "Man with No Eyes," wears reflective sunglasses and carries a shotgun everywhere he goes. He is the symbol of authority in the film. Yet the movie never bashes you over the head with its message, and there is some moral ambiguity. When one guard is forced to put Luke in the dreaded "box" for the night, he confesses that he doesn't want to do it, but is just doing his job. This line shows that the guards may simply be acting on orders, rather than actively trying to make the convicts' lives miserable.

Cool Hand Luke also functions as a Christ metaphor. Subtlety is not the key word here, however. After the egg-eating contest, Luke lies sprawled on a table in the crucified position. Luke refers to God as "Old Man." And like Jesus, Luke is a good person who endures suffering at the hands of those who misunderstand him.

There I go again, making Cool Hand Luke sound far more depressing than it really is. It is true that the story has many tragic elements, and great critics like Roger Ebert have argued that it is a deeply pessimistic movie. But I think they are missing the point. Even the sad, poignant scenes have a strong dose of humor and warmth.

Take, for example, the scene where Luke's mother Arletta (Jo Van Pleet) comes to visit. There are, of course, the moments of regret and sorrow, like when Arletta confesses to Luke how she always wanted to see him have grandchildren. But even though Arletta is close to death, her spirit is fully intact. This is no frail old woman. She sits in the back of a truck, cracking jokes, swearing, and puffing on a cigarette. She never once scolds Luke, but rather tries to enjoy the little remaining time she has with her son. Even on the tender subject of Luke's father, who apparently left years ago, Arletta finds the humor. "Your old man, Luke. He wasn't much good for sticking around, but dammit he made me laugh!"

That sort of optimism pervades the film from the start. When Luke is first arrested, he flashes a drunken grin at the officers. When he is beaten to a bloody pulp by Dragline, he determinedly keeps fighting. When he takes on the sickening challenge of eating 50 eggs in an hour, he fulfills the task with bravado. And even after he has been captured by the prison wardens for the second time, when it seems like his spirit has been broken, he flashes a weak smile. Newman has a sort of quiet strength that carries these scenes. After all that he has suffered, both physically and emotionally, Luke's spirit is intact to the end. It's all summed up perfectly by Dragline at the end of the film - "That old Luke smile. Oh, Luke. He was some boy. Cool Hand Luke. Hell, he's a natural-born world-shaker."

Verdict: A -

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

By all accounts, silent film director D.W. Griffith invented the modern feature-length film. His movies introduced ambitious storylines, editing techniques and camera tricks that had never before been seen. Yet that does not make his films any easier to watch for the modern viewer. The Birth of a Nation, Griffith's 1915 Civil War epic, is on one hand one of the most influential and important films ever made. On the other hand, it is often dry and unengaging. And of course the film is notoriously racist, playing up the worst racial stereotypes and glorifying the Ku Klux Klan as the savior of the South. 

The story is split into two halves, with the first covering the Civil War and the second covering the Reconstruction period. These events are seen through the eyes of two families - the Northern Stonemans and the Southern Camerons. The families are close friends, and their relationship provides the film with its structure, as the family members witness famous events such as Lincoln's assassination and the rise of the KKK. 

So just how racist is The Birth of a Nation? Well, the film certainly anticipates its criticism, with a disclaimer at the beginning saying that the story is not supposed to reflect any race of today. And given all that I had read, I was expecting worse during the film's first half. The racism is certainly there - all of the slaves are portrayed as being perfectly happy, and black soldiers are portrayed as mindless followers - but the first half of the film does not actively condemn blacks, preferring to tell its war story. 

However, all of that completely changes in the second half. Part two opens with a quote from Woodrow Wilson that glorifies the Ku Klux Klan, calling it "a veritable empire of the South" that arose "to protect the Southern country." Black characters (most of whom are played by white actors in blackface) are seen as villains who overtook the South and trampled on its great legacy. In one scene at the State House of Representatives, there is an overwhelming majority of blacks, and they are all portrayed as uncivilized and incompetent. A caption card laments the "helpless white minority." In the next scene, Ben Cameron is inspired to create the Ku Klux Klan, who are seen as the film's heroes. In yet another scene, a black character named Gus attempts to rape young Flora Cameron. He is later executed by the KKK. These are just a few examples of the racism in the film. 

So yes, The Birth of a Nation is morally despicable. But is it watchable? For the most part, I found the film to be tedious and overlong. Unlike The Passion of Joan of Arc, another silent film that I reviewed, it does not stand well on its own merits. If one puts aside the racism and the cinematic importance, The Birth of a Nation is simply not very engaging. There are a few notable exceptions, though. The assassination of Lincoln is very suspenseful, and a few battle scenes are exciting. 

Still, how can I possibly hold that against the film? The Birth of a Nation is in many ways the birth of cinema, and it is unfair to criticize its narrative for not being fully developed. It would be like looking back and criticizing Edison's lightbulb for not being bright enough. With that in mind, I begin to see the folly of assigning any sort of rating to this film. Can I possibly judge The Birth of a Nation the same way I would judge, say, Quantum of Solace? Of course not. It may be that I am simply not knowledgeable enough about silent film to fully appreciate the movie. Suffice to say that The Birth of a Nation is not an easy film to watch, due to both its nature as a 3-hour silent film and its outspoken racism. But it is undeniable that it is a film of lasting historical importance, and should be viewed as such. 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Soon after Die Another Day, the 20th installment in the James Bond series, was released in 2002, it was widely ridiculed for crossing the line into self-parody. The villain created an orbiting ice palace to harness solar energy. 007 drove around in an invisible car, and sailed down a raging river standing on an ice block. Quantum of Solace, the second Bond film starring Daniel Craig as 007, faces almost the opposite problem. The movie tries to be so grim, gritty, and realistic that it just comes across as dull and lifeless.

The story picks up almost immediately after the great Casino Royale, with Bond driving an injured Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) to headquarters for interrogation. Before escaping, Mr. White reveals something about a nefarious organization that "has people everywhere." Further investigation leads to the discovery of a group called QUANTUM, which is employing Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) in an evil plot to overthrow Bolivia's government and drain its oil reserves. Or something like that.

But enough about the plot! This is a James Bond movie! How are the action scenes, you wonder. Fine, if you are a fan of the mile-a-minute, quick-cut, shaky camera action scenes that dominate the Bourne series. For those of us who do not enjoy nausea, however, Quantum's action scenes are quite irritating. Perhaps I am being unfair, though. In the Bourne films, the quick editing and shaky camera techniques contribute to the suspense, and the viewer at least has some idea of what is going on. The same cannot be said for the car chase that opens this film. Rather than getting my blood pumping, it left me sitting there waiting for the damn thing to end.

Yet when we are not being hammered by incomprehensible action scenes, the movie bores us with unnecessary exposition. The plot was really not interesting enough to hold my attention, and after a certain point I found myself tuning out. The main villain, Dominic Greene, is played by the terrific French actor Mathieu Amalric, but his character is bland and uninteresting. And yes, M (Judi Dench) and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) were likable enough characters in Casino Royale, but they are given far too much screen time here.

The Bond girls fare slightly better. There are two - one a well-developed main character and the other one of Bond's quick flings. Olga Kurylenko plays Camille, the main female sidekick. Like Bond, she too is out for revenge for the death of a loved one. Kurylenko does well with the material given to her, but I can't pretend that her character is very memorable. Agent Fields (Gemma Arteron) is an entirely different beast. Her character's fashion and hairstyle are clearly throwbacks to the Bond girls of the 60s era. Although she does not have very much screen time, Arteron injects some humor and spirit into a movie that is desperately lacking in those departments.

But the main problem with Quantum of Solace is that there is nothing memorable about it. I struggle to think of a single sequence that is a standout. Director Marc Forster has said that his favorite scene comes during an opera performance, when the action cuts back and forth between the violence on stage and the violence that Bond is wreaking. But the scene struck me as a failed attempt at artsiness. The parallels that are being drawn are unclear, and the whole sequence feels out of place - like a pedestrian attempt at the montages that close the Godfather films.

So what impression does Quantum of Solace make? Not much of one, I'm afraid. I found it instantly forgettable, an endless string of uninspired action scenes. Casino Royale is the superior film in every way - its action sequences are at once more memorable, more exciting, and more comprehensible. And its story actually had a heart, and took time to develop characters. The same cannot be said for the sequel. Forgive the obvious pun, but Quantum of Solace left me feeling more shaken than stirred.

Verdict: C

Monday, November 24, 2008

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita is perhaps most remembered for the image of beautiful blonde actress Anita Ekberg standing in a fountain in Rome. It is an iconic image; recognizable even to those who have not seen the film. Ekberg plays an American actress named Sylvia, but she is only a minor character in the film, just one of many characters who pass through the story. In fact, La Dolce Vita is a very episodic film with few recurring characters. The one thread that ties it all together is the character of Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), a photojournalist who lives the "sweet life" in Rome - driving expensive cars, eating at cafes and cavorting with movie stars. The movie exposes the shallowness of such a life, and is particularly relevant in this age of Paris Hiltons and Lindsday Lohans. But to look at La Dolce Vita as merely a message movie is to ignore the most compelling reason to see it - it is a fascinating character study, featuring beautiful cinematography and directed by a top-class filmmaker at the height of his power. 

It is difficult to summarize the "plot" of La Dolce Vita because it is by no means a traditionally structured narrative. The film is mainly a string of disconnected sequences, each representing one night in Marcello's life. There are a few recurring characters, though - Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) is Marcello's estranged and suicidal girlfriend. Steiner (Alain Cuny) is one of Marcello's idols, a seemingly happy intellectual with a wife and kids. Maddalena is a rich heiress who Marcello encounters at the beginning and end of the film. 

The film's structure is at times frustrating. Upon first viewing, some sequences seem overlong, and the film lacks a cohesive flow. Yet that is part of what La Dolce Vita so brilliant. Its disjointed structure illustrates the empty life of Marcello. He spends his nights at sumptuous parties, drinking with beautiful women, but never finds a stable relationship or any real meaning in his life. The same holds true for the people Marcello surrounds himself with. 

In one telling sequence, Marcello's father comes to Rome and visits his son. Marcello expresses a clear desire to connect with his father, but at dinner his father is distracted by an alluring chorus girl. They go home together, but at dawn his father becomes sick and eventually must leave on an early train. The scene is revealing because it shows how Marcello's character flaws go back to his father, but also that Marcello is looking for a real relationship with his father. Mastroianni perfectly exudes a lonely yearning in that scene. 

Another central figure in the story is Steiner, who in many ways represents what Marcello would like to be. Steiner is a serious writer, a family man, and fancies himself an intellectual. But he is not as happy as it would appear, which is made tragically clear later in the film. The character of Steiner, and indeed all of the supporting characters, are wonderfully sketched by Fellini, the screenwriters, and a gifted cast. 

Another one of the the film's assets is its gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Many of the images in the film are extremely memorable.  The fountain scene is the most obvious example, but there are others. A Christ statue being towed over Rome by a helicopter. The deserted streets of Rome at night. Marcello's father, blankly staring out of an apartment window. And the perfect final few shots of the film, which I will not reveal here.  

La Dolce Vita is also fascinating for its depiction of the paparazzi. In fact, the word "paparazzi" comes from the film's character of Paparazzo, who is one of the many photojournalists who swarm around the lives of the main characters. The paparazzi are ever-present in the movie, and they have no sense of decency. When Marcello gets into a fight with Sylvia's boyfriend, they do not rush to help their friend but rather rotate around the fight to get the best shot. When a woman is informed of a family tragedy, dozens of them crowd around her to capture her reaction. The film is almost scarily accurate in this depiction, especially since it holds true today. 

La Dolce Vita is a long and at times frustrating film - its unconventional structure may try the patience of some viewers. But that is really the only criticism I can give it. The film is positively overflowing with ideas, and its influence on cinema is remarkable. Yet aside from any historical importance, La Dolce Vita is a wonderful film in its own right. The story is heartbreaking, the cast impeccable, and the cinematography beautiful. For adventurous filmgoers, La Dolce Vita will provide food for thought for years to come. 

Verdict: A

Friday, November 14, 2008

12 Angry Men (1957)

With the exception of two brief scenes that bookend the film, Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men takes place entirely in a jury room on a sweltering summer day. In other films, such a confined setting might become tedious, or even seem more like a play than a movie. But this is not the case with 12 Angry Men. The film is so finely crafted by the director, and the cast so impeccable that it transcends its humble setting to become a memorable and lasting entertainment. 

The film begins with a quick courtroom scene, in which a bored judge addresses the jury of a murder trial before dismissing them. The case in question involves the murder of a father by his son, a juvenile delinquent who was allegedly seen and heard committing the crime. The vote must be unanimous to pass a decision either way, but it seems obvious that the defendant is guilty. But during the preliminary vote, there is one holdout - Juror No. 8 (Henry Fonda), who votes not guilty and expresses a desire to talk about the case. What follows takes place entirely within the confines of the jury room,  as Fonda presents his argument for reasonable doubt. As the debate progresses, things get heated, and the jurors' prejudices and ulterior motives are revealed.

12 Angry Men marked the directorial debut of Sidney Lumet, who went on to direct such films as Murder on the Orient Express, Network, and Dog Day Afternoon. But even from this first feature, his skill is unquestionable. It is said that as the film progresses, Lumet used different lenses and shifting camera angles to contribute to an increasing feeling of claustrophobia. This technique is fascinating,  but perhaps the most important thing about it is that the viewer hardly notices. Certainly, the tension of the film seems to increase as it goes on, but Lumet never lets any of his techniques upstage the actors. 

And what a cast he assembled! The ensemble here is truly perfect. The standout, at least for me, is Lee J. Cobb as Juror No. 3, an extremely embittered and angry man who has had something of a family tragedy. But every actor delivers solid work. E.G. Marshall as a man of pure reason and Ed Begley as an outspoken racist are just a few examples. Each of these actors gives a distinct personality to their nameless characters, and the way that those personalities collide with the other jurors is consistently fascinating to watch. Ironically enough, Fonda's Juror No. 8, the protagonist of the film, is one of the few jurors who really seems like a stock character. He is honorable and dignified but rather uninteresting, mainly serving to set the story in motion. Still, this is hardly bothersome, and one can hardly blame the screenwriter for not providing a backstory for every single character. 

12 Angry Men is the promising debut of a young director, who is now fully recognized as one of the great American filmmakers. That alone is reason enough to see it. But above all, 12 Angry Men is simply a terrific story brought to life by a brilliant cast. A true classic.

Verdict: A 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Persepolis (2007)

Persepolis is nothing if not ambitious. It almost defies labeling, because it is such a unique creature. It walks a thin line between comedy and drama. It is an animated film and contains flights of fantasy, but its characters and story are rooted firmly in reality. It is in some ways "artsy", with its stylistic animation and its mature storyline, but it always feels accessible. What is perhaps most surprising about the film, then, is that all of these elements come together and the film works beautifully. 

Persepolis, based on a series of graphic novels, is a semi-autobiographical story about Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian woman who grows up during the late 70s and early 80s, a very turbulent time for Iran. She is witness to the revolt against the Shah regime, wars with Iraq, and other conflicts. At home and abroad, Marjane struggles with her Iranian identity, depression, an increasingly restrictive society, and of course love over the course of the film.

The animation of Persepolis is quite striking. The vast majority of the film is composed of hand-drawn* black and white animation. Although studios like Pixar deliver some fine computer-generated animation, it is refreshing to see a more traditional approach inPersepolis. The animation is particularly inspired during the historical interludes, in which rulers are portrayed as puppets being manipulated on a stage. But other images remained in my head. Long lines of soldiers shoot at each other across a ditch and then fall in, as the bodies pile up. Marjane and her boyfriend fly through the city in their car. Waves in the ocean are seen as massive swirls that gently bob up and down. 

But perhaps the most compelling reason to watch Persepolis is simply its story. The film's characters are fully rounded, and the humanity of the story is compelling. Marjane's tale is essentially a coming-of-age story, but it never dissolves into cliché. Marjane's relationship with her grandmother, her disenchantment with the superficiality of European society, and her struggles with love all feel like the genuine conflicts of a real person. I fear, though, that I am making Persepolis sound too serious. The truth is that Persepolis finds great humor in Marjane's story. In one of my favorite scenes, an adolescent Marjane walks down a street in Iran past a line of shady looking men with trenchcoats, whom look like they could be drug dealers. But no, they are merely selling lipstick, nail polish, and Stevie Wonder CDs. In another scene, Marjane struts down the street, singing "Eye of the Tiger." 

Persepolis succeeds not only as an animated movie but as a great film in itself. The film combines a compelling storyline with a striking visual style and is truly a must-see.

Verdict: A

*Note: I said the animation was hand-drawn, but it was most likely created and edited on a computer. Still, it looks hand-drawn, and the point still stands that it looks very different than anything the American animation studios are producing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Birds (1963)

Alfred Hitchcock promoted his film The Birds by saying "It could be the most terrifying motion picture I have ever made!" Interesting, then, to note that the movie takes about 45 minutes before anything remotely terrifying happens.

The Birds begins with young socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) meeting lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) at a bird store. She is charmed and after he leaves, she purchases a pair of lovebirds that he was interested in for his younger sister. Daniels tracks down Brenner at his Bodega Bay home, and delivers the birds. She is soon persuaded to stay for the weekend, staying with schoolteacher (and Brenner's ex-flame) Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette). Soon after her arrival, huge groups of birds begin to inexplicably attack the residents of Bodega Bay.

Hitchcock certainly takes his time in setting up the characters and plot. Maybe a little too much time. The actors all do a fine job, but much of the setup seems tedious. The beginning scenes where Daniels tracks down Brenner, drives down to Bodega Bay, finds out the name of his sister, etc. is a prime example. There is nothing wrong with character development, but I think that the first hour or so of The Birds could have been tightened up considerably. To be sure, Hitchcock rarely rushes into the action at the beginning of a movie. But in films like Psycho, Hitchcock uses the extra time to build up the suspense and mood of the film. A lot of the setup in The Birds just feels unnecessary.

Hitchcock is at his best when the birds finally attack. It starts off innocently enough, with one gull swooping down at Melanie on a boat. Then a flock attacks several children during Cathy Brenner's birthday party. Each attack gets progressively bigger and more threatening. Interestingly, Hitchcock almost never uses music, at least not noticeably like he did in Psycho. I suppose he didn't really need it; there is something rather unsettling about the birds' attacks as they are. But even more unsettling are the shots where the birds are just sitting there calmly, staring. One of the most suspenseful Hitchcock sequences I've seen comes at the end of the film, when Brenner goes outside at dawn and sees hundreds of birds perched all around his house. He quietly walks over to the garage, slowly backs out with the car, and opens the front door to bring his family and Melanie to the car. The suspense, obviously, comes from the fact that the birds could attack at any minute. But they don't, they just stare, and the result is a very creepy scene.

The Birds does have some other flaws besides the tedious set-up. There is a scene in a diner that is altogether too convenient. Melanie is calling home trying to explain to her father about the bird attacks, when she just happens to run into a bird expert who lectures her about the difference between crows and blackbirds and why different kinds of birds would never fly together. The whole scene comes off as phony and unnatural, as well as overlong. It also seemed that Hitchcock really didn't know how to end the movie. The ending is abrupt and there is no resolution for the characters he has so labored to develop.

The Birds certainly is an imperfect movie, with its tedious setup and abrupt ending. But Hitchcock succeeds hugely with the actual bird attacks, which, let's face it, is the main reason to watch The Birds. Hitchcock also wisely never gives an explanation for why the birds attacked. My 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book suggests that Hitchcock might have intended it to be a "misogynistic sexual allegory," but I don't buy it. No, I think he was just trying to scare us out of our wits. Mission accomplished, Hitch.

Verdict: B

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of those films that I have been meaning to watch for years. My dad bought the DVD for my mom several years ago, and it has remained on a bookshelf in her study all these years. But somehow I never got around to watching it. I had heard that Maria Falconetti's performance was tremendous, that the film was highly influential, and that many critics upheld it as one of the greatest films ever made. Yet I always resisted, thinking that it would be too long, or too confusing, or too dated, or, frankly, too boring. But seeing as I was home from school today, I thought I should at least give it a chance.

What was I waiting for? The Passion of Joan of Arc is honestly one of the greatest films I have ever seen. I try to avoid statements like that, but I really cannot resist in this case. All of my fears about it being too complex or long were completely unfounded. The film is under 90 minutes long, and the story it tells is very simple. It's not at all a traditional "biopic;" it is only focused on the last days of Joan's life, when she was interrogated and executed by ministers of the Church.

Maria Falconetti, who never again starred in a movie, plays Joan of Arc. She is without a doubt the most extraordinary thing about the movie; I can't imagine what it would be like without her. The film is shot almost entirely in close-ups, and thus relies quite a bit on Falconetti's facial expressions to convey the character. The huge range of emotions that she can express is incredible. Joan's character is established immediately from her entrance. The film's Joan is bewilderedn and frightened, totally overwhelmed by the circumstances she finds herself in. Falconetti never loses touch of the human side of Joan. In other films Joan might be seen as a fearless leader, uafraid to the death. But Falconetti's character clearly struggles with the questions the judges ask her about her relationship with God. She has a huge internal battle about whether to give in and survive or maintain her position. One of the most telling scenes comes when Joan is first taken out to be executed. A priest gives her one last chance to recant, insisting she sign a document that would let her live. Joan hesitates, but then sees a man digging her grave. As he shovels dirt out of the ground, his shovel tosses up a skull. After seeing this, she reluctantly signs the document. Of course, she will later deny this confession and be burned at the stake. Falconetti's performance in this scene, and throughout the film, really needs to be seen to be believed.

But there are other strengths in the film besides the main performance. The director, Carl Theodor Dreyer, uses one editing technique (a quick-cut montage) that I didn't even know was around in the 20's. It is used in the scene where Joan is taken to the torture chamber. The ministers threaten her with torture if she does not sign the document. As a man cranks a spiked wheel, Joan stares on in horror. The scene cuts back and forth between Joan's terrified face, the wheel, and occasionally the ministers. The shots get quicker and quicker until Joan finally faints. This scene is particularly effective, but there are others. Dreyer's use of close-ups and cuts between the various ministers in the interrogation scene are just as effective; they show how overwhelmed Joan is at all of these anonymous faces cursing and condemning her.

The script has no elaborate touches; it is very simple and is based on historical accounts of Joan's trial. However, there are some subtle nuances that occur throughout. For example, there is a great moment when Joan is sick in bed after she has fainted. The bishop tells Joan that the Church is merciful, and always welcomes back a "lost lamb." Joan reaches out her hand to the bishop, seeking comfort. He pushes it away, disgusted at the very idea that she would touch him. There are also some very noticeable Christ parallels throughout the film. I noticed these particularly in the interrogation scene, and also when several soldiers mock Joan and place a sort of makeshift crown on her head - a crown that she later wears when she is burned at the stake.

The Passion of Joan of Arc really is a flawless movie. Maria Falconetti's performance is rightfully hailed as one of the greatest screen performances ever. In addition, the film is fascinating to watch for its innovative camera and editing techniques. Regardless of your religious affiliation or your opinion about Joan, The Passion of Joan of Arc is a groundbreaking film that will deeply touch anyone who is not made of stone.

Verdict: A+

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Simon Birch (1998)

Simon Birch is one of those movies, I think, that can easily be seen as either deeply moving or severely manipulative. I think it is both of those things at different points. To be sure, the film takes several missteps in terms of tone and character. But it also does generate a fair deal of emotion based simply on the story and some terrific acting.

The film tells the story of Simon Birch (Ian Michael Smith), a 12 year-old dwarf growing up in Gravestown, Maine in 1964. Simon, very much a free spirit, is scorned by his parents and frustrates the inhabitants of Gravestown with his outspoken attitude, particularly his belief that God has chosen him to be a hero. However, he forms a friendship with Joe Wentworth (Joseph Mazzello), and Joe's mother Rebecca (Ashley Judd) becomes something of a surrogate mother to Simon. The film is told in flashback, from the point of view of the adult Joe (Jim Carrey), who is visiting Simon's grave and says that Simon is the reason he believes in God.

The search for identity is a major theme in the film. Joe, the illegitimate child of the beautiful Rebecca, is simply trying to figure out who his father is. Simon is trying to discern what God's purpose for him is. These two characters form a bond because they consider themselves outcasts. The script clearly sympathizes with them, but the viewer may not. There is one scene in church where Simon is supposed to come off as intelligent and free-spirited. I just found him obnoxious and arrogant.

Nevertheless, Ian Michael Smith does very good work as Simon. His performance has the humor, charisma and warm-heartedness necessary for the character. Joseph Mazzello is perfectly capable of playing the "normal kid," Joe. But when the script calls for great emotion on his part, his performance leaves something to be desired. Ashley Judd and Oliver Platt deliver solid performances of likable characters.

But in my opinion the standout of the cast is David Strathairn, who plays Reverend Russell. His character is stiff and strict and is thus in direct conflict with Simon for most of the movie. However, it soon becomes apparent that there is more to Russell than meets the eye. Yet even in his early scenes Strathairn never dissolves into caricature. His Russell always seems to be haunted; he is clearly hiding something under his calm and composed facade. What he is hiding becomes all too clear by the end of the film. Strathairn is a celebrated character actor who has gained deserved acclaim in recent years, with his Academy Award-nominated performance in Good Night and Good Luck and his role in The Bourne Ultimatum. This performance shows just how much Strathairn is capable of; he turns a minor supporting role into a full-fledged human being.

Yet despite its strong cast, Simon Birch has some serious script flaws. As mentioned before, the character of Simon does not always come across as likable as he is supposed to be. Also, there is one scene involving a Christmas pageant that dissolves into rather cheap, crude humor. And finally, the script often bashes the viewer over the head, telling them what to feel.

There is one simple but very moving scene that is a happy exception to this tendency. I won't reveal the full details, but suffice to say it occurs after a sudden tragedy that Simon had a big part in. It is late afternoon, the day is getting darker, and Simon is running away. A wide shot shows Simon stopping at the middle of a bridge and looking toward the sky in desperation. He is dwarfed by his surroundings. He yells out to no one in particular: "I'm sorry!" He turns around and repeats it again. The scene is touching because it seems like a genuine outcry of grief, there are very few gimmicks to tell us what to feel. I wish the same could be said for the rest of the movie, which is narrated by Jim Carrey and tends to be sentimental and mushy.

Still, Simon Birch is an effective movie. Despite some script imperfections, it does derive a great deal of emotional power from its touching story and excellent cast.

Verdict: B -
Note: Thanks to Amy LaCombe, one of my Dad's colleagues, for the suggestion to review this movie.

You can see that bridge scene I was talking about here. It takes place from 7:53-8:24.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Sting (1973)

When I first heard the news that Paul Newman had died this past September, I reacted with a fair amount of surprise. Not at the screen icon's death, but rather at my realization that I had never seen one of his films all the way through. How had this happened? I certainly knew who he was, both from his major film roles such as Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and yes, from the salad dressing. But somehow I had never really seen him in action. I remember seeing about half of Cool Hand Luke on Turner Classic Movies once, but I never watched the whole movie. Soon after Newman's death, I added Cool Hand Luke and The Sting to my Netflix queue, which were by all accounts two of his best films. Turns out Luke was temporarily out of stock, so I settled for The Sting, and popped it into my DVD player this weekend.

The Sting tells the story of Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), a con man in 1930s Chicago. When one of his fellow friends and "grifters" Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) is killed by Irish mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), Hooker seeks revenge with the help of Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman). Together, the two grifters set out to pull a "big con" on Lonnegan.

That can only begin to describe The Sting, however. The plot takes several twists and turns over the course of the story. I won't begin to describe exactly what happens, because frankly I did not understand every twist myself. But The Sting really is not about following the plot to the letter. Most of the sheer entertainment from the film comes from the collaboration of Newman and Redford, who had previously worked together on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Both performers are charming and affable, particularly Newman. Redford has more of a dramatic role; he is playing a character who is essentially a very lonely person. But as strong as the two actors are together, Newman is arguably stronger alone. Perhaps his best scene comes in a card game with Lonnegan, in which Gondorff pretends to be a drunken businessman. Newman's arrogant, drunken, carefree character plays wonderfully off of Robert Shaw's uptight mob boss Lonnegan. It should be noted that in addition to Newman and Redford, Shaw is excellent in the villain role.

Another virtue of The Sting is that it never takes itself too seriously. Although the film does have moments of darkness, it generally has a light, comedic tone. This is established from the very first scene, which shows a Chicago with a very bright color palette. The film is also accompanied by a jaunty ragtime score, which adds to the mood.

The Sting is first-class entertainment. It is an unpretentious and consistently entertaining caper film graced by three top-class actors. If you have never seen a Paul Newman film, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

Verdict: A -


Hello everyone...and by everyone I mean the five people that might actually read this blog. For those who don't know me, I'm Sean, I'm 15 years old and ever since I can remember I have loved movies. Over the years, I've had numerous different cinematic obsessions. It started, I think, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Then Star Wars, which I was lucky enough to see for the first time on a big screen when I was 6. After Star Wars, it was Indiana Jones. Then Spielberg's films in general. Then The Lord of the Rings. Several years later, The Godfather. I could go on, but you get the idea.   

Anyways, I recently decided that one of my goals in life is to become, for lack of a better phrase, "film-literate." First step? Prowling through my 1,oo1 Movies You Must See Before You Die book and, well, doing as the title suggests. That's probably an impossible goal, but it's a place to start.  I've also been reading a lot of Roger Ebert's reviews, particularly in the Great Movies section of his website, which contains some of the most insightful reviews I have ever read. Both of these sources have opened me up to a whole new possibility of what a movie can be. I recently watched (and was astounded by) Federico Fellini's 1963 film 8 1/2 and realized just how little I know about foreign film. Clearly this is something I need to rectify. 

Tonight, I was talking at dinner with my parents today about how I would love to become a film critic. It seems a perfect fit for me; it combines two of my hobbies - writing and watching movies. Besides, ever since middle school I've been accused of being "too critical" of movies. I always took that as a compliment, even if it was never intended as such. My dad suggested I start a blog to practice writing reviews. And that is how this blog was born. It's primarily for me - a way for me to keep track of all the movies I watch, and to practice writing movie reviews. I might stray from topic eventually, but for now I'm sticking solely to movies. Thanks for visiting, and enjoy!