Archive | November, 2015

Killer’s Kiss – Review

29 Nov

Without a shadow of a doubt, Stanley Kubrick is my favorite film maker of all time. In fact, the very first thing I wrote about on this blog was a rundown of all of the movies I’ve seen of his at the time. Now, finally getting around to watching one of his movies I’ve never seen before is really, really exciting. This film is Killer’s Kiss from 1955. After a disappointing start with his first feature, Fear and Desire, Kubrick was determined to really make a name for himself and show what kind of artistic flourishes he had to offer to the film world. For being a very short and totally independently produced film, Killer’s Kiss affectively foreshadowed masterworks that were to come.

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Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a down on his luck welterweight boxer who’s goal is to finally achieve some sort of recognition or success, but his prime has long since passed. He also has eyes for his neighbor, a taxi dancer named Gloria Price (Irene Kane), who is employed by the sexually frustrated and alcoholic gangster, Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera). After rescuing her from one of his drunken fits, the two quickly fall in love and decide to leave town together. What Davey and Irene don’t plan on is Vincent soon catching on to their plan, and how he’ll go so far as murder in order to guarantee his favorite dancer will stay in town and make all of his fantasies come true.

Kubrick’s early works sort of form a mixed bag of films. While it’s mainly established that The Killing is a film noir classic, many people aren’t very fond of Fear and Desire. Right in between those two is Killer’s Kiss, a film that I don’t hear discussed or reviewed as much as the other two. In my opinion, Killer’s Kiss is visually ahead of its time and beautiful and a seedy sort of way, but the story and the characters are poorly developed. I’d like to take a step away from the plot development and the characters and marvel at this movie for its visuals, but that wouldn’t be a very accurate review, would it? Still even with its faults, it’s Kubrick’s first real punch to the film industry.

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From the picture above, it’s pretty obvious that Kubrick takes the cinematic styles of film noir and utilizes them to their fullest. Even though the characters are pretty uninteresting and underdeveloped, they still are archetypical of the noir genre and fit in perfectly with the seedy New York underbelly that is fully explored throughout the film. Not only does Kubrick use style that was already seen in films of this kind, but also adds some stuff of his own that wasn’t quite the common place. There’s more tracking shots than there normally were in 1955, a boxing scenes shows some real brutal violence, and there’s an excellent long take of Davey running along a rooftop. Not to mention some of the compositions, like when Davey’s face is stretched out as the camera looks at him through a fish tank.

Killer’s Kiss, as lost in the background it may be, was truly a passion project for the 26 year old Stanley Kubrick. The only way he got funding for this film was by borrowing $40,000 from his uncle and shooting without any permits. That may not seem like a problem, but it certainly is when you’re filming on Broadway during the busiest time of the evening. In order to get some shots, Kubrick had to be filming from the inside of a car so he wouldn’t be noticed and if he had to make a quick getaway. He also had to negotiate with a group of homeless people at one point so he could use their alley for a scene.

Killer’s Kiss may not be the best written film noir or entry into Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, but it does mark the real beginning of his film career. Visually, this movie is excellent foreshadowed what was to come. The archetypes and genre tropes are all present, but Kubrick really injects the film with his surreal style that left me with many memorable scenes. Fans of Kubrick, film history, and the film noir genre should definitely make this one a priority.

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Faster – Review

24 Nov

I’ve heard quite a few positive things about the 2010 film Faster since the time of its release. While it didn’t do too hot with the critics, a lot of people who’ve seen it have recommended it to me. Honestly, I was just kind of excited to watch a movie where I wouldn’t have to think too hard. I mean, an action film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson couldn’t be anything too thoughtful. What I got instead was a satisfying action film that was equally intelligent with fully developed characters and some heavy thematic depth.

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After serving a ten year prison sentence, Driver (Dwayne Johnson) is finally released with his mind solely focused on getting revenge on the gang that killed his brother. Armed with a pistol, a list of names, and unflinching fury, Driver begins making his way down the list of names, brutally killing anyone on it. This catches the attention of a few people. On one side, there’s Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a highly skilled but neurotic hit man hired to stop Driver at any cost. On the other side is Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), a detective trying to piece his life back together after struggling with a heroine addiction. As these three parties come closer to colliding, more is figured out about what truly happened to Driver’s brother, revealing a bigger conspiracy than was originally thought.

There’s a lot more going on in this movie than just brainless action, and that’s what really sets Faster up a step above many other films in this genre. Not only is there a revenge story at the core of the movie, but there’s also nice thematic depth, a purpose for everything you see on screen, and a message at the end that perfectly wraps up everything that came before it in a nice package. In one scene when we see Killer beginning to track Driver, he can be seen on the phone with his therapist while on the job. I found that to be a very creative way to add some levels to his character and made me realize that I wasn’t just watching a throwaway movie that I’d forget tomorrow. Mostly all of the characters in the movie have their own idiosyncrasies that make them feel real and help them give meaning to the message that sometimes it is too late to turn your life around.

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With a name like Faster, I also thought this movie was going to be one of those non stop jolts of action that’s kinetic and over the top. The fact is that that’s nowhere near what this movie is actually like. There are plenty of action scenes, but they don’t particularly last very long. Most of them are over within a few seconds since they mostly have to do with Driver getting his revenge on another person on the list. He really only fights one of them, and the rest he pretty much just executes. There’s also a small car chase that is fun, but that kind of stuff isn’t really what this movie is about. What I’m trying to say is that nothing is excessive in this movie. I never felt like I was watching a scene of violence just for the sake of violence. This just goes back to when I said that everything that happens in Faster has a purpose.

While the movie may be a step above average, I can’t really say the same thing for the performances. Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje stand out in terms of their performances, but everyone else is just so so. Dwayne Johnson kind of just stands there and kills people for most of the movie. There are one or two scenes where he lets his acting rip a little bit, but I think his character is a little underwritten and not very interesting. Carla Gugino and Jennifer Carpenter also show up in the film, but they also don’t give any kind of interesting performance. The only people to really watch for in this movie are Thornton, Jackson-Cohen, Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

Faster may not be the best action movie you or I will ever see, but it was really nice seeing some creativity and thought put into not only the story, but also what the movie was truly about. Not only did this film entertain me, but it actually forced me to think and want to dig deeper at what lied beneath the revenge story on the surface. I was really surprised by how good this movie actually was, and I can’t believe the review turned out this way, but I definitely recommend this one.

A Bridge Too Far – Review

18 Nov

It’s easy to make a war film that celebrates victory, but I can’t say the same about making a film that tells the story of an overwhelming defeat. Film history is sort of lacking in movie that tell the story of missions or operations that have gone terribly wrong. Arguably, one of the most notorious failures was Operation Market Garden, which happened after D-Day as World War II was coming to a close. Director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman took Cornelius Ryan’s in depth book examining the loss and turned it into the grand World War II epic, A Bridge Too Far.

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On September 17, 1944, Operation Market Garden was put into effect by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The plan was to drop 35,000 men behind enemy lines and secure a series of bridges so that ground forces could cross them on the way to liberate Arnhem. After only a few days of preparation, the mission began and things soon begin to go very wrong. This film follows different people through different locations and problems, among them being Staff Sgt. Eddie Dohun (James Caan), Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery), and Lt. Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins). As the mission drags on a lot longer than it should have, supplies begin to run low and more soldiers fall victim to the desperate Nazi soldiers.

This films may be one of the most “star studded” movies I’ve ever seen. I almost can’t believe how many people they got to sign on this project. I’ve already mentioned James Caan, Sean Connery, and Anthony Hopkins but the list doesn’t end there. A Bridge Too Far also features Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Caine, Maximilian Schell, and Laurence Olivier. With a cast like this, you would expect a lot of really emotional and hard hitting performances, but in this case you would be wrong. Sure, the acting is great, but A Bridge Too Far is far from being an emotional powerhouse. In fact, save for a few scenes, this is a pretty cold and objective look at Market Garden.

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With this huge amount of actors, it’s pretty obvious that there’s also a huge cast of characters. There’s British soldiers, American soldiers, and Polish soldiers to keep track of along with a couple of scenes of important Nazi soldiers. There came a point in the movie where someone was asking about how others were doing, and I didn’t know who they were talking about. I still have a hard time remembering who was who. I don’t think that’s really my fault either because so much is crammed into this movie. Even at 3 hours long, I felt like it could have gone on for even longer since some of the characters never really got their story arc fully realized. That’s part of the reason why I say this is a very cold war movie rather than an emotionally intense one.

Now while this is a pretty detached move doesn’t mean it doesn’t get pretty wild. There are scenes in this movie that are some of the coolest I’ve seen in a war movie because they feel huge and are executed with perfection. One scene in particular shows the thousands of men being dropped out of gliders, with some of them being show from a first person perspective. There’s also no music playing during this part which makes it extra effective. Some other great scenes include the air force bombing Nazi forces entrenched in a forested area and the nail biting assault on Nijmegen Bridge. There is unfortunately a lot of down time between some of the other better scenes, which often makes everything feel uneven at times.

A Bridge Too Far certainly can’t be called the best World War II film ever made due to some of its glaring issues with character and pacing. There’s so much stuffed into this movie, there really was no way to give every event or character a chance to develop fully without making this some sort of miniseries. Still, there are plenty of scenes that stand out as something truly special. The scale of this movie is large enough to fit the shoes of such a military blunder as Market Garden. If anything, this movie should still be viewed to get an interesting look at history and also for its extraordinary cast.

Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” – Review

11 Nov

There are a lot of different way to make a western film. There’s the more traditional ways that are often equated with actors like John Wayne and there’s also more modern and/or revisionist westerns that have been made by film makers like Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino, and Clint Eastwood. My personal favorite kind of westerns, however, are the Italian made spaghetti westerns. I like to compare spaghetti westerns to comic books since they’re usually colorful (with setting and characters), over the top, and often violent. The most famous of these films arguably make up Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, which are A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Not only did these films help launch the careers of Leone and Clint Eastwood to new heights, but also plenty of other reasons that make these films classics and worth a review.

Let’s start with A Fistful of Dollars from 1964.

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In this film we are introduced to the now iconic character, the Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood), a wandering gunslinger who happens upon a small Mexican border town called San Miguel. What the Man finds in this town is surprising. San Miguel is a town that is under the clutches of two rival gangs. One one side there’s the Rojo family, who deal in liquor, and on the other side is the Baxter family, who deal in weapons. The mysterious gunslinger realizes a way where he can make a profit from both sides by playing each family against each other. While this is a great source of income, the Man learns by the local innkeeper, Silvanito (José Calvo), of the great stress that the two warring families have put on the town and the lives that have been lost in the process. This turns the Man’s mission of profit into a mission of protection and vengeance for the townspeople.

If you’re thinking that the plot for this movie is almost the same exact plot for Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai film Yojimbo, you wouldn’t be the only one. The fact that this film was an unofficial remake to Yojimbo, without giving credit to that film as inspiration stirred up some controversy when it was released. To be fair though, Yojimbo was pretty much lifted from Dashiell Hammet’s 1929 novel Red Harvest. While A Fistful of Dollars seems to be taken from a couple different sources, the film still stands as a film that helped redefine the western genre.

Clint Eastwood’s performance as the Man With No Name is one of the most iconic in film history. It’s been imitated and parodied, but never has it been equaled. Not only is the Man a real tough guy and quick to shoot, he also shows a lot of compassion and has a great sense of humor. It’s really everything you look for in an archetypal hero like this. Sergio Leone’s direction also elevates this movie above many others in the genre because of the abundance of style thrown into it. Not only does it have western tricks and motifs, but also implements Eastern styles of film making like using close ups and quick zooms. Finally, this movie really wouldn’t be complete without Ennio Morricone’s controlled and melodic score.

So, in conclusion, A Fistful of Dollars stands tall as a classic of the western genre, but this review doesn’t stop there. After being pressured by the studios, Leone would go on to make a sequel, For a Few Dollars More released in 1965 overseas and in 1967 in America. Not only is this a great sequel, it’s a huge improvement over the first film.

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The wild west was the land of bounty hunters, and the people that matched the hunters in dangers were only the people that were being hunted. Problems also tended to arise when two bounty hunters vied for the same target, which is the case of the $10,000 reward on El Indio’s (Gian Maria Volonté) head. On one side there’s Col. Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), an ex-soldier who was labeled the “finest shot in the Carolinas.” On the other side is the Man With No Name, aka Monco, a wandering gunslinger who can draw faster than you can blink. When the two bounty hunters wind up in the same town, it becomes quite clear that they would be more effective if they teamed up to take down El Indio and collect the enormous bounty on him and his gang.

This is a movie to get really excited about because you have to think about how cool A Fistful of Dollars was and add a bigger story with more larger than life characters and then you finally get For a Few Dollars More. This film perfectly builds on my describing spaghetti westerns as the comic books of the western genre. Monco and Col. Mortimer feel like superheroes the way they can hit their targets from so far away. Even the way they dress is symbolic to their characters. El Indio on the other hand is a perfect super villain since he can shoot almost as well as the two heroes and has a gang of henchmen surrounding him. Not to mention his over the top personality. This film is just a super entertaining and well made movie.

Ennio Morricone returns as composer for the film and the music is also a huge step forward. One song in particular is written and performed like something you would hear in a music box. That kind of composition reminds me of Morricone’s work for The Untouchables. This film is also the point where Leone found out just how skilled he was as a film maker and also strengthened his stylistic choices. Leone is known for his sound and editing, and there are many scenes in For a Few Dollars More that feature no dialogue, but only some sound or quiet music. This trademark would be perfected in the opening scene of Once Upon a Time in the West.

While A Fistful of Dollars is arguably one of the best westerns ever made, it can be debated that For a Few Dollars More may be one of the best films ever made. Believe it or not, things only get better with the third film of the trilogy. This is of course the 1966 film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which has become one of the most iconic films in the history of cinema.

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As the American Civil War ravaged the entire country, there were many people who did anything they had to to survive. Tuco (Eli Wallach) is a bandit on the run from law enforcement and bounty hunters that seem to be coming from every direction. Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is a ruthless bounty hunter who will kill anyone of any age in order to complete his job and get paid. Finally, there’s the Man With No Name , aka Blondie, another bounty hunter, who along with his new partner Tuco, scam towns by collecting reward money and then escaping later on. As Tuco’s and Blondie’s partnership collapses, another monkey wrench is thrown into their lives: a rumor of hidden gold buried in cemetery. Blondie knows the grave and Tuco knows the cemetery, forcing them to once again work together. Unfortunately for both of them, the sadistic Angel Eyes also wants a piece of the gold and will stop at nothing to claim it all for himself.

While it can be argued that For a Few Dollars More is one of the greatest films ever made, I’m pretty sure that anyone who has scene The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly will agree that this is definitely one of the best movies ever made. Everything that I’ve said was great about the first two films are back for this one, but enhanced on such an epic scale. There are so many iconic moments that it’s hard to name them all. The destruction of a bridge strategically placed in the middle of a major Civil War conflict and the climactic Mexican showdown in the middle of the cemetery are just a few examples. The film’s themes are also as epic as the everything else you see. The catastrophic effects of war and how it shapes people trying to survive through it is a surprising theme for a movie like this, but there are scenes where it really can strike a nerve and get the emotions flowing.

When the film was first released in 1966, most critics gave it a lot of negative reviews because they were disgusted by how violent it was. Yeah, it’s violent, but like the other films in this trilogy it happens very fast and always has a reason. The only thing excessive about The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the run time. Granted, I’ve only seen the extended version so I may be a little unfair. What isn’t unfair is my complaint that Angel Eyes doesn’t get NEARLY enough screen time. This film is also very episodic in nature, but watching the characters adapt to whatever strange scenario happens next actually builds up who they are more than you might expect. Finally, I can’t talk about this film without mentioning how Morricone created one of the most beloved film scores in the history of movies. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a landmark of film making, and must be discussed whenever the topic of film history comes up. It truly is a masterpiece.

I could say so much more about the Dollars Trilogy and I might one day. For now, I just wanted to give an overview of it and try to explain why they are three of the most important films you may ever see. Leone completely deconstructed the western genre and turned it into something never seen before. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing these films yet, it must be done as soon as possible.