Tag Archives: dustin hoffman

Straw Dogs – Review

28 Nov

Sam Peckinpah is a name that goes along with controversy in the film world. In fact, one of his nicknames was “Bloody” Sam. Straw Dogs continued that streak of controversy, and even went on to be banned in the UK for 18 years! The reasons for this is Peckinpah’s unapologetic depictions of violence and rape, and his filming something so graphic at the time was pretty ballsy and I respect that. This has made the film somewhat of a keystone in modern film making, even if Peckinpah’s depiction of women can be somewhat… I don’t know… misogynistic?

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David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George) are trying to get away from the anti-war protests and anger that has engulfed the United States, so to get some peace and quiet they move to a small village in Cornwall, England. This being the village where Amy grew up, she starts to get harassed by an old boyfriend. The troubles don’t stop there as a group of drunken villagers begin tormenting them day in and day out, until one day David just can’t take it anymore. As the villagers begin attacking his house, David lets out a much more violent side and shows that he will kill, maim, and otherwise disfigure anybody who steps through his door.

The first time through this movie, it feels really slow and really boring. I will admittedly say that for a while, I wasn’t really feeling the movie at all. Then the climax came and the whole drama played out and I was sitting on my couch in a state of shock. First of all, in terms of suspense, I can’t believe how intense and violent this climax is, and in such a way that I felt like I was stuck in the scene. The lighting and sound is gritty and dark, and once David begins blasting Irish music, my blood really starts pumping. Another thing that this now infamous climax does though is make you appreciate the slow boil of this movie and the constant pushing that the villagers do to David.

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When I say slow, I mean slow. It seems, at times, that nothing is really happening in the story, but once the movie is one you realize that everything is connected and everything is important. This isn’t a very complicated movie when it comes to the story, but the tension is what really makes it. It seems like every line of dialogue is pushing the movie forward in some way. Plus the slow pace of the movie makes the climax that I just can’t stop talking about even better since we’ve been waiting and watching for an hour and some minutes.

We’ve all been pushed in some ways in our lives, whether it’s at work or home, it’s happened to us before. In this way, we can relate to David and stand by him in his acts of extreme violence. Peckinpah had it right there. In terms of the woman in the movie… that can be debated. In a way, her dynamic made the movie very interesting, up until the end when she was just annoying. Without giving too much of the plot away, Amy behaves in a way that people may find unrealistic and kind of sexist towards women. That’s really the only fault I have for this movie. Unfortunately, this fault could be a major turn off for some people, which is really disappointing considering how great this movie is.

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Straw Dogs is a violent and evil ride. Evil is a weird way to put it, but I feel like it’s one of those movies that have been stigmatized so much that it’s considered a necessary evil in the film world. It did help push film into the more modern direction and was a good early film in one of my favorite decades of film. This may not be for the weak stomached not folks who turn away at the possibility of cringing, but it is a very important movie and I love it very much!

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Midnight Cowboy – Review

1 Feb

The history and stigma surrounding Midnight Cowboy should be enough to attract viewers to see it. When it was released in 1969, it was prompt rated X for it’s strong emphasis on sexual content and other themes that play throughout the movie. More importantly, it is the only X rated film to win an Academy Award, and for Best Picture no less. I recently reviewed another film from director John Schlesinger, Marathon Man. I only found Marathon Man slightly enjoyable, and hoped for more from Midnight Cowboy.

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Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a naive Texan who travels to New York City with dreams of becoming a wealthy hustler. In other words, a well to do male prostitute. When he gets there, he soon realizes that NYC is a totally different world from the one he’s used to, and he quickly loses all of his money. Now down on his luck, he meets “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a small time thief with a couple of cents to his name trying to survive the harsh conditions of the city while fighting polio. Together, these two form an unlikely bond and do their best to make some money to get to Florida, but as the winter draws closer, Rizzo’s condition worsens.

I was surprised with how much was actually in this movie. There’s so much subtext and thematic material to latch on to, and once you do, you’re more than ready to give it back. This is an intensely emotional film that may possibly leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. This isn’t something you want to watch when you’re in a great mood, because once it’s over, that good mood will have left about an hour and a half ago.

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The film does a great job at pacing itself. We start with Joe Buck in Texas, a place filled with bright sunshine and happy music. Once he gets to New York, we’re in a whole other world with him, but it’s still looking bright and hopeful. Then things start going wrong and winter begins approaching. At this point everything seems to get dirty, gray, and ugly along with the entire story. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, in fact, it’s remarkable. Much like Aronofsky’s Requiem for a DreamMidnight Cowboy uses a strange sense of realism to really immerse the viewer into the entire situation. There are stylistic elements that work very nicely too. Schlesinger relied heavily on the juxtaposition of flash backs to tell Joe’s story, but also juxtaposition everyday items to mean something else. There’s an interesting sex scene that plays out with an unusual use of a television and its various programs.

As for the performances, they belong on anyone’s Top 10 best. It’s impossible to choose between Voight and Hoffman. Both show tremendous talent with method acting (which Hoffman is known for) in this film, and seem to be fully into the minds of their respective characters. Hoffman even put pebbles in his shoe to help with the limp, and despite being almost hit by a car, he continues a scene still fully in character, resulting in one of the most famous lines in film history (I’M WALKIN’ HERE!)

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Midnight Cowboy explores so many different elements in its story. Human sexuality, both hetero- and homosexual. Loneliness and friendship play a key role in the story, and can arguably be the most important. It also exposes a strange period of time. The era of peace, love, and happiness was coming to an end, all the while America was in a bad state with the Vietnam War. Midnight Cowboy doesn’t overtly come out and say it, but it definitely shows a historic subtext that offers little hope for the future.

I could write an entire paper just on this movie. I can’t think of the last time I saw a movie that made me think so much about so many ideas. Midnight Cowboy may look a bit aged in both style and presentation, but the performances and themes are timeless. This film deserves its spot as one of the  best, important, and most controversial films ever made. Check it out and you may even accidentally learn something.

Marathon Man – Review

22 Jan

I know I’ve said this before, but thrillers are difficult for me. I either love them or I hate them. Most times, thrillers have an excellent plot with lots of suspense and memorable twists. Unfortunately, a lot of the time they also succeed in boring me due to convoluted narratives, derivative characters, and a lack of…well… thrills. Marathon Man had the ability to be an excellent thriller, but due to a ridiculously messy job at pacing and story set up, I was only minimally entertained.

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Thomas Levy (Dustin Hoffman) is a graduate student studying history in New York City and his brother Henry (Roy Scheider) is an agent for a secret government organization. Both of their lives are completely separate. Or so they thought. Enter Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier), a nazi hiding in Uruguay, and has come to America to collect a fortune of his that was acquired during World War II. Szell is paranoid that Henry is going to try to rob him of his diamonds, so his reasoning is to go after both Henry and his innocent brother Thomas. Now Thomas is up against a for he never thought he’d have to face, with very little help from his supposed allies.

Let’s go through this movie step by step. First off, it is known that all of the main players are masters of their craft. Olivier was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but the real powerhouse performance is that of method actor Hoffman. While these performances are great, I can’t say the same thing about the first hour of the movie. We spend a lot of time with Scheider’s character and building up the paranoia of the main plot, and also building up Hoffman’s character and his relationships. Unfortunately the time spent with Scheider is pretty dull and presented sloppily.

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The only thing really interesting about the first hour’s scenes with Dustin Hoffman is his acting. He’s very natural and brings a lot of life into a character that isn’t extraordinarily interesting. You know what else isn’t extraordinarily interesting? The relationship that builds between Hoffman and Marthe Keller. I understand that not every relationship in a movie has to be the most special thing I’ve ever seen, but it should be somewhat interesting. This one was as derivative as could be. Scenes building their relationships seemed to take a while and weren’t too fun.

There is a point when the story does pick up, and pick up it does. The last hour of this movie is absolutely awesome. While I was watching it, I kept thinking to myself, why couldn’t the rest be like this? From the unflinching torture scene that will make you dread the dentist even more to the scenes of Olivier seemingly surrounded by aware Jewish men and women on the streets of NYC. This is where the thrills finally show up. Better late than never, right? Wrong. I shouldn’t have to sit through an hour just to get to the good stuff. The entire movie should be good. I don’t negotiate with entertainment.

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It’s safe to say that I wanted to like Marathon Man a lot more than I did. It claims to be a thriller, but I’d consider it half of one. The first half of the movie feels both dull and disjointed, while the second half held my attention until the conclusion. Like I said before, I shouldn’t have to wait an hour to get to the thrills. I understand the need for character and plot development, but at least keep it interesting. If the pacing was as good as the performances, the movie would be great, but instead I can only call this a mildly entertaining thriller.

The Graduate – Review

16 May

Ever since I got to college, a lot of time has been spent in class studying The Graduate, so it was only a matter of time before I actually got to reviewing it. To me, this movie is a classic and is full of memorable scenes that are used to convey the emotions that Benjamin feels. This is a very important movie, and I’m glad I’m finally reviewing it.

Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has finally graduated college with multiple awards and honorable mentions. Now that he’s about to enter the real world, he finds himself to be very nervous about his future. This anxiety is relieved when he enters into an affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the older wife of his father’s partner at their law firm. This affair continues of requite some time until Benjamin is forced to take Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), out, despite Mrs. Robinson’s protestations. Benjamin soon falls in love with Elaine and must unravel himself from the lies that he has caused from his affair in order to be with the one he loves.

Dustin Hoffman gives a fantastic performance that jump started his career and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross were also nominated, along with the cinematographer, producer, and writer. The director, Mike Nichols, won the Academy Award for Best Director, however. Bancroft and Hoffman have incredibly awkward chemistry that almost makes some of their scenes hard to watch. This isn’t a bad thing, however, because it gives the characters a massive amount of depth. All of the character are deep, but Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson are very believable.

Technically speaking, The Graduate is a milestone. The editing and different uses of camera lenses give each scene a unique feel. For example, the use of a telephoto lens as Benjamin is running towards a church to stop a wedding makes it feel like Benjamin isn’t gaining any distance, even though he is running really fast. The cinematography also looks fantastic, with lighting that perfectly mimics the mood of the scene.

A really effective part of The Graduate is how much Benjamin’s feelings of anxiety resonate with me, personally. The future is a scary thing, but it is never made into an impossibility. Benjamin spends the entire movie making really quick decisions, which is a very bad idea if you want to be successful in life. The last shot of the movie is exceptionally subtle at saying that this is not the end of Benjamin’s story, and we’ll never know if he goes on to live a happy life.

It is said that this film perfectly captures and explores the theme of rebellious youth in the 1960s. For that time period it was probably true, but nowadays that theme is a bit played out and not very relevant in this case. That’s why the theme of the mysteries and fears of the future are what really support the story. It’s something everyone can relate to, which makes this movie very easy to understand.

The Graduate is a classic in every sense of the word. This will be a film that will be relevant for many years to come because of its themes and performances. The techniques use to make this film were new and exciting at the time and are still being used today, which makes The Graduate exceptional in every aspect. Even the soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel is something to enjoy. If you haven’t seen this yet, you are really missing out on one of the greatest movies ever made.