Rain Man (1988)

Rain Man

Rain Man – 1988

Director – Barry Levinson

Starring – Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, and Valeria Golino

What is more awful, the imitation of the famous character, or the famous character, himself?  It’s not as easy a question as I was guessing that it would be.  With such well-defined mannerisms, speech patterns that inspire imitation, and the constant repetition that drives it into the brain of the collective public, a film like this one can easily become parody.  Before seeing this film, my only knowledge of it was of the imitation of Ray Babbit that just about everyone seems to know, regardless of having seen the film or not.  I had grown rather sick of these imitations and had developed the opinion that I didn’t like Rain Man because of it.  I felt that Dustin Hoffman’s performance as the aforementioned Babbit was hammy and over the top, and I wrote off Tom Cruise as having played himself…again.  All before having seen one frame of film.  I was wrong.

For something that could have easily delved into the realm of the predictable, layered with melodrama, and schlock that I feared so much, Rain Man keeps a remarkably level-headed assessment of Hoffman’s mentally challenged Ray and his hot-headed brother, Charlie played in a remarkably subtle way by Cruise.  Immediately my impression of the film shot up as the characters turned out to be not only grounded in reality, but more importantly, utterly believable and even likable as well.

Driven mostly by his anger, and to a lesser degree by his fear, Charlie Babbitt,tries to fill the hole inside himself with things and with money.  Constantly he is reminding himself of what the world owes him, and it is with this attitude that he greets the news of his estranged fathers death.  Not willing to deal with how this makes him feel, or his own sense of loss, Charlie looks simply at what was left to him, and feels he is owed more.  He is not a terrible or a bad person, he is just so filled with anger, it’s all he can feel anymore.

The majority of his father’s money, it turns out, has been left to a brother, that Charlie never knew he had.  Ray Babbitt, the new-found brother, immediately becomes a target for Charlie’s anger, despite the fact that he’s unable to understand, let alone deal with either the anger or the blame.  Charlie is left with the choice of leaving with nothing, or leaving with Ray, hoping to get a sort of paltry ransom from the executor of his father’s estate, and the rest of the film deals with the two brothers learning to find value in one another.

While the union isn’t ideal for either of them at first, the two brothers eventually get to know each other, and in time come to trust each other too. As I mentioned before, Tom Cruise, wasn’t yet the Tom Cruise we know today.  The 1988 version could actually play more than one character, each one with subtlety and definition, too.  Watching Babbitt stretch and grow, first straining against then breaking through the confines of his anger, was one of the most rewarding experiences thus far in this endeavor.  Combined with the muted performance that Dustin Hoffman turns in, Rain Man showed itself to be the real deal.

While not my favorite of what I’ve seen during this little endeavor, Rain Man was surprisingly good.  What could easily have fallen back into the gimmick of method acting or even a plain, stale buddy movie, really blossomed into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.  Well worth it.

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Detour (1945)

Detour – 1945

Director – Edgar Ulmer

Starring – Tom Neal, and Ann Savage

Most movies have a fairly common structure.  Introduce main character, introduce obstacle, main character struggles, main character overcomes obstacle, main character succeeds, lesson learned.  Now these steps can be repeated over and over again as needed, but generally this is the standard flow that a linear movie follows.  There is, however, always an exception to the rule that eschews this set up in favor of either of two scenarios.  The first, is that nothing happens to the main character, and they live happily ever after.  Boring.  The second is that everything possible happens to the main character.  They are so weighed down with the overwhelming  hopeless circumstances that they may not ever recover, and there is no happily ever after stage in that equation.  Detour resides in this second, depressing as hell movie category.

Everything starts out fairly well for Al Roberts (Tom Neal), he’s young, he has a job that he loves, and he has his best girl by his side.  Pretty quickly though, things begin to tarnish for him.  His girl wants to take a break from their relationship and move out to Los Angeles to chase her dream of being in the movies.  Distraught, Al plans to follow her, win her back and marry her.  So it is about this point in your standard movie following my previously outlined formula that our hero would struggle, and endeavor against all odds to do just that.  He may run into trouble along the way, but with pluck and ingenuity fueled by this goal, he’ll no doubt find a way.  So that is exactly what Al sets out to do, so far so good.

So he starts hitchhiking across the country towards LA, and towards his dreams of happiness and the future.  Of course the problems start right away, but that’s to be expected, right?  Challenge gives way to frustration, and eventually to desperation as one problem turns quickly into many.  Al is picked up by a shady gambler, Charles Haskell, who is also on his way to Los Angeles, but the weather changes, things go wrong, and the man ends up dead, accidentally maybe, but dead none-the-less.  Afraid of blame and retribution from the police, Al steals the mans identity and becomes Charles Haskell Jr.  At this point, things go from bad to worse, not only for the character, but also for the audience who is stuck watching him make the dumbest decisions that he possibly can.

In an attempt to appear normal, and change his luck for the better, Al decides to pick up a hitchhiker himself.  Enter, Vera (the very appropriately named Ann Savage).  Distrusting, brash, opportunistic, with a little touch of crazy, that would appropriately describe, Vera.  Oh and one other thing, Vera knows that Al isn’t who he says he is.  Much as I might like to elaborate, to do so would give away too much of the plot.  Needless to say the situation goes from bad to worse.  What started as simple, easily explained, accidental death, continues to spiral downward along a path of deception, greed, and desperation.

This bat-shit crazy pair of travel companions simultaneously need, and can’t wait to be rid of the other.  It’s nearly excruciating watching them make worse and worse decisions, swinging them ever closer to the final reel of the film (which by the way you can see their fate coming from a mile off).

Strangely, and tragically enough, this events of this film (Success, murder, money, double crossings, etc…) were mirrored, in a way, in Tom Neal’s (Al) real life.  Violence led to his being black-balled from Hollywood, causing him to take up landscaping work, and he ended up serving 6 years of a 7 year sentence after being convicted of manslaughter in the murder of his wife.  This knowledge of what has become of our main actor sort of colors the impact of the film, making it seem even darker, which is quite a feat considering how dark it is already.

This film, while interesting and definitely unique, is not nearly as engaging and warm as other studio system films of the same era, and as a result seems out-of-place.  Bleaker than other, similarly plotted movies, this film seemed like it was trying to alienate and shock audiences of the day much in the same way a movie like “Kids” did in the early nineties, or anything that Lars Von Trier has ever done ever.  Detour, like the film “Peeping Tom” fifteen years later, seemed to be a film that went to a point that audiences weren’t ready to go just yet.  Themes like this would later be explored and realized more fully and successfully in films of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  At that point the glow of a war winning, wholesome Americana was just wearing off and we were ready to have doubt, fear, and loathing creep in again.

“Bitch is crrraazy” – Ashley

Top Gun (1986)

Top Gun – 1986

Director – Tony Scott

Starring – Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, and Val Kilmer

Though there has been action in movies since the beginning of the art form, the action movie genre really blossomed and came into its own in the mid to late 1980’s.  By the early 90’s the genre had been raised to an art form.  Films like Die Hard, Total Recall, and Robocop, dominated the box office, and raised an entire generation of young movie goers (myself included).  These films brimmed with coarse language, fantastic plotlines and an electric energy that their predecessors of the action genre couldn’t match, and as a result became the gold standard for masculinity.  It may not have invented the genre, and it certainly isn’t the best film in it, but Top Gun is a pioneer certainly deserving of the crown that it’s earned.

The plot is simple enough, so simple in-fact, it’s barely referenced or paid attention to (even the characters in the movie).  Tom Cruise plays Maverick, a hot-shot fighter pilot, incorrigible Lothario, and unrepentant rebel, who paired with his trusty sidekick, Goose (played by Revenge of the Nerd’s Anthony Edwards) are shipped off to the best flight school in the country, Top Gun.  Once there, Maverick and Goose laugh in the face of danger, routinely go against authority, play shirtless volleyball with fellow pilots, and learn hard lessons about the consequences of being a fighter pilot.  Maverick meets and falls for the responsible, yet sexy instructor, Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis, and butts heads with the equally talented Iceman, played by Val Kilmer.

Got it?  Doesn’t matter.  From this point on, just sit back and watch planes flying fast, steamy love being made, rules being broken, and the occasional explosion.  The stakes of the story don’t matter at all, the characters and the plot exist solely to dazzle the eyes and keep your butt in the seat.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You think I am poo-pooing, Top Gun for this reason. Wrong!  This is one of the main reasons that I enjoyed it as much as I did.  If there was a chance that Tom Cruise might fail, or if the Kenny Loggins song Danger Zone weren’t being drilled into my head, I very well may have lost interest and turned it off.  The fact is, it was exactly this brazen assault on my memories of  childhood that made Top Gun so attractive and fun.

Nurtured into life by the Uber-producing duo Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and directed to perfection by the one and only Tony Scott, this film set the bar for action movies for the next 10 years.  Aside from asserting the testosterone filled masculinity that defined the action movies of this era, Top Gun paved the way for countless immitators, one-offs, and made the career of Tony Scott who would go on to direct other such classics as Crimson Tide, True Romance, and my personal favorite of his films, The Last Boyscout!  If there was any doubt at all, this film washed away those deniers of Tom Cruise’s stranglehold on hollywood, a grip that would only relax much later when he came off as crazy for jumping on the couch at the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Having only recently seen Top Gun, I was surprised how different it was from its parody, Hot Shots.  I have to admit, even after the character of Charlie (McGillis) was introduced I kept waiting for someone closer to the character of Ramada Thompson (Valaria Golino) to be introduced and get Maverick’s attention.  Also, Tom Skerritt is no Lloyd Bridges, not that anyone is of course.

The long and short of it is this…Top Gun is not going to win any prizes for dedication to craft, but it will most likely distract you for 2 hours, and leave you with a pleasantly warm feeling afterwards.

If you liked Top Gun, check out these classics of the genre…

The Crow, Total Recall, The Last Boyscout, Hard to Kill, Hard Target, The Fugitive, Casino Royale, Big Trouble in Little China, The Rock, or Tango and Cash.  All of these films are absolute gold*!

* Disclaimer…Your definition of “gold” may differ drastically from mine.  Watch at your own risk!

“Mmmm….Iceman.” – Ashley

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Steamboat Bill, Jr. – 1928

Director – Charles Reisner

Starring – Buster Keaton, Tom McGuire, Ernest Torrence, and Marion Byron

A big debate amongst cinephiles is the merit of a film whose sole intent is entertainment, dispensing of deadweight such as message, stakes, and emotional heft.  Today these types of films are called “Popcorn Films” or “Blockbusters”, and they are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, kids, elderly, men, women, people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds.  No one demographic is really ever left out of the mix when talking about the audience for a film like this, with the exception of one…film snobs.  Does it have to be this way?  Are the visual hijinks, daring physical feats, and very basic storyline of something like Steamboat Bill, Jr. enough to make watching it worth while?  You bet!

This time around (just like most of the other times around) Buster Keaton finds himself the subject of scorn by an adult or an authority figure.  Despite this treatment, he remains almost blissfully unaware, and instead focuses his attention on the pretty young girl who has caught his eye.  Some sort of catastrophe occurs necessitating Keaton to spring into action, simultaneously proving the nay-sayers wrong and confirming the young girl’s belief in him.  Keaton invariably does this by demonstrating his physical prowess in an impressive and hilarious way.

Okay, so the story line is pretty much the same in each of his movies, only the setting and some of the plot points change.  One time it’s a train, the next it’s a steamboat.  He want’s to be a detective in one and the next he wants to play the violin.  This really isn’t all that different from other of Keaton’s peers, Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers for example, were basically the same characters in multiple different movies, but does that remove any of their value, or the value of the film?

I submit to you that this is the best of Keaton’s films that I’ve seen so far.  I say this solely on the strength of the last 30 minutes of the film knowing full well that by then the story has almost completely finished.  We watch Keaton twist and contort his body against the force of a hurricane.  He has to dodge and weave, avoiding entire houses as they collapse around him, and in this flurry of activity I lost track of time and stared in wonder watching him go.  Whereas, during the first 45 minutes I found myself feeling restless and a little board, by the end I was on the edge of my seat.  The only disappointing part, was that the film wasn’t a full hour and fifteen minutes of that.

While I know what to expect from the storyline of a Keaton film, I will keep coming back and watching them because I also know what to expect from the sense of action and adventure from a Keaton film too.  This is my favorite of his films so far, and I don’t say that lightly.

“Buster Keaton, the inventor of break dancing.” – Ashley

The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush – 1925

Director – Charles Chaplin

Starring – Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, and Georgia Hale

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush is essentially the same film as Modern Times, the other of his films that I’ve seen.  That is not to say that it is bad, or that it is poorly done, on the contrary the gags are very well through out and expertly executed.  No, I only mean that The Gold Rush is a venue for Chaplin’s most enduring character, The Tramp, to play out many of the same, or at the very least similar, gags as seen in his other films.  The backdrops in each changes, but he essence of each is the same.

This time around The Tramp is trying his luck in the Alaskan frontier as a gold prospector.  A number of other characters struggle alongside him, most notably is Georgia, the love interest.  He spends the entirety of the movie pining after Georgia, dreaming up clever ways to get her attention, and most of the time failing miserably.  There is some tension between the Tramp and some of his fellow prospectors, but it mostly amounts to a bunch of innocent, slapstick, sight gags.  At no point was I ever convinced that Chaplin was going to fail, or die, or succumb to any of the dangers to which he is subjected throughout the film.  Once all the danger and opportunity for our hero’s failure is stripped away, all that is left are a series of nice, but rather shallow skits that are barely tied together by setting and characters.

The individual gags themselves (a delusional prospector sees the Tramp as a plump chicken, constant walking through doorways into empty space, and playing round-about games of hide and go seek from ones’ pursuers, to name a few) have inspired more than a few Warner Brothers cartoons as well as defining the language of comedy.  The real accomplishment in what Chaplin managed with his films was in the imitation that he inspired.  His gags (and those of his contemporaries) have been used, re-used, and re-imagined so much that they have become a part of our collective knowledge.  The value of his work is measured in how many people know about it, whether or not they know it’s Chaplin’s work doesn’t lessen the impact of its saturation.

Despite the fact that, in my opinion, The Gold Rush isn’t the best of the movies on this list, I recognize it’s importance.  If for no other reason than it’s contribution to the language and history of film, The Gold Rush deserves to be on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

“Sorry I’m more of a Keaton and Lloyd kind of gal.”  –  Ashley

More From the Vault

Every so often I’ve updated the list of films that I have already seen with brief reviews.  Call it the complete-ist in me, but when I’m done with reviewing each of the films in the book, I’d like to have reviewed every single film in the book.

Anyhow, here’s another batch for you to read.

Enjoy!

Shichinin No Samurai AKA Seven Samurai (1954)

The Seven Samurai is the first movie that I had the pleasure of seeing from the master director Akira Kurosawa, and it is also one of his most praised works. Without a wasted frame, the story takes place over the course of almost 3 hours. Kurosawa, as he does in each of his movies, explores more than just the action and injustice featured in the plot. He is a humanist first and foremost, training his lens on the interpersonal relationships of the characters, tracking growth across this epic. As good as this film is, I would have to say that Kurosawa has numerous films that are even better, check out Stray Dog, Rashomon, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and my personal favorite High and Low.

“Fuck yes!” – Ashley

The Ladykillers (1955)

Existing as a special combination of dark humor, and slapstick farce, The Ladykillers is exceptionally funny and unsettling. Alec Guinness stars as the leader of a group of criminals staying at the home of a hardy, vivacious older lady under the guise of being musicians. The plan is simple, rob a bank, and utilizing the trusting nature of the kindly old lady, and the remoteness of her home to their advantage, get away with it. Easily my favorite of Alec Guinness’ films (thanks in part to the Star Wars prequels that is), The Ladykillers features a solid cast of great actors, including a very young Peter Sellers.

Bob Le Flambeur AKA Bob the Gambler (1955)

My introduction to the fantastic Jean-Pierre Melville, I was captivated immediately by the cool as ice gangster come gambler Bob. This film is filled with signature Melville-isms. Glorious post war street scenes in Paris. Trench-coats. Honor among thieves. And who could forget the caper. To talk too much about this film is to give too much away, and to do that is to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it. Other classics by Melville: Le Cercle Rouge, Le Samourai, and the recently released in the U.S. Army of Shadows. All are fantastic, and deserve to be in this book! Incidentally, Bob le Flambeur was recently re-made into The Good Thief starring Nick Nolte and directed by Neil Jordan, and while I’m not generally a fan of re-makes, I really, really liked this film. Not quite as good as the original, but it was one of my favorite films of 2002.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

The ultimate in hardboiled private eye crime stories, Kiss Me Deadly is a full on assault on decency. Kiss Me Deadly proudly presents itself as a grimy PI story, littered with bodies and intrigue. If you even have a passing interest in film noir, this should be your first stop. Violent, misogynist, brutish, and glorious, Kiss Me Deadly begs to be watched and dares you to look away. I myself, loved it!

The Ten Commandments (1956)

Apparently based on a book, The Ten Commandments is an epic in every sense of the word. Colored in bright explosive candy hues, and featuring huge sets, as well as a cast that number in the thousands, The Ten Commandments is more spectacle than great movie. Certainly not a waste of time, but not my first choice when choosing something light to throw in.

Det Sjunde Inseglet AKA The Seventh Seal (1957)

A classic, and well-loved film by Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal stars an extremely young Max von Sydow as a knight who faces Death at a game of chess to decide his fate. This film is filled with themes that find their way into each of Bergman’s works, ranging from courage in the face of death, religion, and humanity. The Seventh Seal still holds up to this day, with luminous black and white photography that, thanks to Criterion’s Blu-ray edition, has never looked better.

Note: Don’t be fooled by the similarly themed, but much worse, “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”

Kumonosu Jo AKA Throne of Blood (1957)

Kurosawa’s retelling of Macbeth set in feudal Japan. Shakespeare has never looked better as it does in the stark black and white, twisting shadows and swirling mists as seen through Kurosawa’s camera. Toshiro Mifune doesn’t disappoint in the lead role, but the real stand out is Isuzu Yamada in the as Mifune’s opportunistic, poisonous wife. The plotting and scheming starts right from the get go, all the way up till the frenzied end of the film.

“The Scottish play set in Japan.” – Ashley

Touch of Evil (1958)

One of the many trouble spots on Orson Welles’ resume due to studio interference, and financing issues, still Touch of Evil remains as possibly the best B-Movie ever made. Iconic (and sometimes hilarious) performances by Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston (as a Mexican) and Welles himself as the crooked cop willing to do almost anything to ensure justice prevails (just so long as it’s his justice). The movie is almost as famous for its long tracking shot opening as it is for any of the performances, featuring a nearly 4 minute shot done in one take which travels around cars, actors, and buildings. The film The Player, payed homage to it by mentioning it a few times during a similarly complex shot in that film.

Vertigo (1958)

Flopping on its initial release, Vertigo didn’t gain the acclaim it deserved until much later after it was released on video. Vertigo visits themes present in each of Hitchcock’s other works, including the obsession with blondes, innocence tainted with corruption, and the schlub who gets in over his head. Jimmy Stewart plays the schlub, Kim Novak plays the blonde, and gloriously technicolored San Francisco plays the innocence and the corruption. Vertigo has a twisty convoluted story with elements of surrealism, an interesting watch.

“Hey. Don’t I know you from somewhere?” – Ashley

Mon Oncle AKA My Uncle (1958)

My favorite of Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot films, Mon Oncle was also the first of them that I had seen. Tati, playing Hulot, is a master of visual comedy, and not in the same way as the Three Stooges, or even Buster Keaton. Tati is an artist whose work is appreciated the longer you watch. The plot of the movie is not so much important to the film as it is simply a guide to get our characters into interesting situations so we can watch them get out. If you liked this film, check out other films featuring the bumbling Mr. Hulot, including Trafic, Playtime, and Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot.

Les Quatre Cents Coups AKA The 400 Blows (1959)

My personal favorite of the French new wave movement was this small-scale film, personal piece from Francois Truffaut. Featuring the director’s alter ego, Antoine Doinel, The 400 Blows is the first in a series of movies, each about a different stage of life and the challenges that go along with them. The period from childhood to young adult is covered heart-breakingly here, following Antoine through the rough waters of his home life and his interaction with the outside world. Later chapters deal with finding love, getting married, having children, and growing old, but Les Quatres Cent Coups remains the directors most personal and his best.

North by Northwest (1959)

One of Hitchcock’s best, North by Northwest features Cary Grant, suave as ever, being mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. Just like in Hitchcock’s most famous works (of which this is one), the witty one-liners, suspense, and drama are heaped on generously. I can’t help but feel sad that a similarly themed, but better film featuring Cary Grant was left off this 1001 list. Charade, also featuring Audrey Hepburn, James Coburn, and Walter Matthau, is one of my favorite movies ever! Check out both Charade AND North by Northwest as a double feature! You won’t be sorry.

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Now this is an example of a classic, well-loved film, with actors that I really love (Jack Lemmon I’m looking at you), a premise that is more than suitable, yet the finished product never really caught me. It’s sort of like Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. I never really saw what all the hype was about. That being said, I didn’t hate it either. It never made fun of me when I had braces, or turned me down for a date, my affections and this film have just always been mutually exclusive. Perhaps it deserves another watch…then again maybe I should just watch The Last Boyscout again.

“Monroe, and drag queens, together at last!” – Ashley

A Bout De Souffle AKA Breathless (1959)

Jean-Luc Godard is nothing if not a sacred cow of French cinema, and while I have loved some of his other films (Le Mepris, Bande A Part, and Masculin Femenine), Breathless or A Bout De Souffle never really did it for me. I can still rationalize why it was so revolutionary (use of jump cuts, editing, non-actors, and subscription to the aesthetic of the French new wave style), and see it’s importance, but I prefer other examples of New Wave cinema. If you are interested in seeing a Godard film, try Masculin Feminine, it is just as revolutionary and a bit more accessible.

Psycho (1960)

A prime example of Hitchcock in his prime. Psycho was so good, and so affecting that some of its actors were type cast just on the strength of this one film (Anthony Perkins, and Janet Leigh), so much so that without a little research it’s hard to think of what other films either of them has been in. Psycho may not be as visually shocking and gory as horror films of today, but it still manages to hold up over time and be just as unsettling as it was back in its day. Hitchcock has always excelled at making the comfortable un-comfortable (motels, birds, tea, dreams, the list goes on…), and the subtle touches in this film work perfectly. Consider for a moment that Perkin’s Bates is an amateur taxidermist of birds, and then that Janet Leigh’s name is Marion Crane a type of bird, or the fact before the crime Marion is wearing a white bra and a white purse, while after it she is wearing a black bra and purse. His attention to detail, and knack for foreshadowing is demonstrated in full force in Psycho and remains one of his best films. Despite all the uproar over the Gus Van Sant remake, I thought it actually did some justice to the original film and if nothing else brought it a little more deserved attention.

Note: This film also has the distinction of being the first American film to ever show a toilet flushing on-screen.

“Someone’s a mama’s boy!” – Ashley

Peeping Tom (1960)

Released the same year as Psycho, and dealing with similar subject matter, Peeping Tom wasn’t received with the same acclaim and attention that the former was. On the contrary, Peeping Tom was seen as subversive, perverted, and generally too shocking. The story revolves more around the killer than the victim in this one, whereas Psycho is presented more from the victim’s point of view. Either way, Peeping Tom is a fine film, one worth watching, however it is so similar to Psycho that I’m not sure it needs to be on the list of 1001 films.

The Apartment (1960)

As far as light-hearted, touching movies about someone recovering from a bout of depression, this one is my favorite. Billy Wilder directs Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in a sweet touching comedy without losing any of his trademark cynicism or the pointedness of his dialogue. The Apartment is another chance for me to champion the somewhat maligned talents of Mr. Fred MacMurray as Lemmon’s boss. MacMurray plays a fantastic creep who really defines the term “heel”.

“MacLaine, proving she’s a better actor than her brother.” – Ashley

Spartacus (1960)

Containing almost none of the trademark elements that make up a Stanley Kubrick movie as we know it (Kubrick apparently dis-owned the film before it’s release), Spartacus remains an interesting movie that isn’t great. It is, however, another example of a film that enabled an up and coming filmmaker to gain his voice, and define himself later on in his career. If only for that reason, Spartacus is a great film, but luckily for the studio, it has some other things going for it. Kirk Douglas plays the title role of Spartacus, and despite all the lavish set production, and concentration on spectacle, brings some heart to the slave who defied Rome.

Jules Et Jim AKA Jules and Jim (1962)

One of director, Francois Truffaut’s most well thought of films, Jules and Jim may be the Lost In Translation, or Juno of its time. Viewed from a certain angle, the plot is a completely moving and emotional story that you believe, so much so, that you can see yourself and those around you in the roles that these characters embody. Viewed from another perspective, it can seem a little precious or purposefully manipulative. Depending on what is happening in your life (I’m mostly thinking about whether or not you are in a relationship, and if you are happy), this movie can preach the glory of love and the pain of rejection. On the flipside, if you have shaken free the angsty, teenager-esque feelings everyone has had in their youth, you may feel like you’re being talked down to.

“I remember it being really boring.” – Ashley

Cleo De 5 A 7 AKA Cleo from 5 to 7

Taking place, as the title suggests, from 5 to 7, we get a slice of the life of Cleo played out before us. Sometimes we, along with Cleo herself, are a voyeurs into the lives of people around her, and other times we are focused on her as she roams around Paris. By and large Cleo lives a carefree, spoiled life, yet we still sympathize with her when times are hard, and cheer for her when they are good. This is a small film in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t impacting and beautiful.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

I have to admit.  I didn’t like Lawrence of Arabia that much.  Perhaps I was too young to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of Lean’s desert panorama camerawork, or just maybe it was the epic length that decided it for me.  One way or another, I didn’t appreciate it as much as everyone else seems to think I should.

“Really long.” – Ashley

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Overly reliant on gimmicks and quick editing techniques, The Manchurian Candidate doesn’t flesh out the story nearly…wait, no that was the terrible re-make that came out in 2004.  The original 1962 version, is just as taught, and well executed today as it was at its release.  While the story between the two versions remained virtually the same, the consistent building of tension and anxiety, combined with the pitch perfect acting of Lawrence Harvey, Frank Sinatra (yes…Frank Sinatra), and the devilish turn of Angela Lansbury as the Queen of Hearts, makes for a fantastic film.

Lolita (1962)

It took me forever to finally see Lolita.  I have known the basic story (older man, younger girl) but had just never gotten around to seeing it.  And while I’ve been told that the book is much better, I thought the film was pretty good.  Not great, mind you, but definitely solid.  The shocking and controversial nature of the relationship was toned down a bit for the screen, and maybe as a result doesn’t seem all that shocking in today’s day and age.  Memorable turns by Peter Sellers, and Shelley Winters, not to mention it’s an early film of Stanley Kubrick.

The Birds (1963)

Despite being one of Hitchcock’s most popular, I actually think that The Birds is one of his most over-rated.  I think I owe it to myself to give this one another look someday, but right now I feel that it was too heavily based on the gimmick that had to rely on special effects.  Though it is not necessarily the fault of the movie, but the special effects seemed particularly dated and old fashioned.  Worth a watch, but not my favorite by a long shot.

8 1/2 (1963)

Federico Fellini is, by most accounts, a master of cinema.  One, that I have always had a little trouble getting fired up over.  It’s not that I don’t like his films once I’ve seen them, the problem comes in when it comes to motivating myself to see them.  I couldn’t tell you why, but his films consistently get pushed off when they come up on my Netflix Queue or when I see the one or two I have on my shelf.  I shouldn’t feel this way, considering I really loved the moving poetry, and soul baring passion in 8 1/2, yet it still happens.  One very definite reason to watch this film is the man-crushable Marcello Mastroianni, swaggering through as the alter-ego of Fellini himself.  Dealing with all the reservations with women, making movies, childhood, and the future that the director very famously dealt with himself, Mastroianni embodies a certain cool, yet believable character that begs to be watched.  Combined with imagery that leaves the audience wanting more, 8 1/2 is a fantastic film.

Well, that’s it for this time.  Thanks for reading!

Down By Law (1986)

Down By Law

Down By Law – 1986

Director – Jim Jarmusch

Starring – Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni

Just like with each other Jim Jarmusch movie, I wasn’t interested in seeing Down By Law based on the cover art, the description, or the actors involved, and just like with each of the other Jim Jarmusch  movies that I have seen (Ghost Dog, Dead Man, Night On Earth) I really, really liked it a lot.

I’m not sure what it is about the marketing or the set-up to this particular director’s movies, but I’m never ever excited about them, and that is exactly where the disappointment ends.  I always love them when I force myself to sit down and watch them.  Strangely enough though, each time I’m done with one, I resolved to go forth and watch all of his stuff with my mind open and ready.  Somehow that never works out.

This particular movie centers around 3 men, all of whom fall into the down-and-out-loser category, and their introduction and consequent relationship with one another during their stay in, and their escape from prison.  Jack and Zack (Lurie and Waits respectively) both see themselves as being better than their current predicament, despite one being a pimp and the other being a drunkard who can’t hold a job.  Bob on the other hand, played charmingly by Roberto Benigni, fully admits to his wrong doing, seems to accept his punishment, and despite all that has a cheerful disposition on top of it.  At first both Jack and Zack scoff at, and make fun of Bob, but ultimately both end up relying on him to a great extent, and really appreciating him by the end.   It is during their escape, when they are trudging through the wilds of Louisiana, and their future looks bleak, that Bob through his intelligence, and fortitude manages to save them from the elements and get them on the path to salvation.

The most stunning part of this film, has nothing to do with the acting, it’s the cinematography!  It is shot in a gorgeous black and white, showing a gloomy, somber side of the traditionally cheerful New Orleans that you’ve never seen and aren’t likely to see again. Almost any shot in the movie could have been used as a poster, or for the DVD box.  The film is almost as sparse as it is filled with details.

This one is a must watch!  Of the Jarmusch movies that I’ve seen, it isn’t at the top (behind Ghost Dog and Dead Man), but seeing as how I loved each of his movies, that doesn’t actually mean anything.

On Tom Waits…”I’d rather watch him act than listen to him sing.” – Ashley