Archive for January, 2011

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

A Technicolor dream film that I watched countless times as young fella. The music, costuming, fantasy, everything is just magic. For many (including myself) this was an entry into the magic of cinema. While I have not seen it in many years, it still fells like yesterday when I first spent time with Dorothy as she clicked her heels and adventured with the scarecrow, tin-man and cowardly lion.

In high school I watched the film in sync with ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ which I highly recommend trying. It is an interesting viewing experience that works with or without the aid of external substances.

It seems almost foolish to recommend the film as it should be a standard for anyone who watches film. It is even more remarkable to think that Victor Fleming directed this film at the same time as Gone With the Wind. Just as powerful as it was now seventy years ago and with a new Blu-ray release I am sure features an even more impressive image than ever before.

Rating: 4/5

Until next time, Cheers!


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Omar Shariff’s entrance in Lawrence of Arabia is perhaps one of the most stunning in cinema history. Almost like a mirage in the panoramic view of the desert Shariff arrives on camel to the aid of Peter O’Toole. This is probably one of the best shots I have ever seen.

The film is long, sweeping and epic. The main characters and supporting cast down the line are compelling and fantastic.

It is a film I have only seen once or twice, but left a strong impact on my mind. Over the years I know I will return to the film again and again to appreciate each element of the film.

Rating: 5/5

Until next time, Cheers!

The Godfather (1972)

I believe this was one of the films that turned my enjoyment of going to the cinemas from a hobby to a passion and potential career goal. Every element of this picture drew me further and further into the world Coppola and others had created. Every character feels fleshed out and part of a family. While the world of the mob is not common to the average viewer the connections and responsibilities each family member has to one another is.

In my mind’s eye the camera  highlights rich gold and red colors, which seems to emphasize the familial bonds and humanity of the characters. In turn it also adds impact to the violence and blood-shed that puncture key scenes throughout the film.

The only portion that took me out of the film on the first viewing were certain scenes with Michael Corleone while on the lam in Italy. I felt that time could have been tightened up just a bit. After seeing the film a few more times, I started to enjoy the leisurely pace of these scenes and further connect with Michael during his time away from the family.

Also, the penultimate scene cross-cutting between the assassination of key members of the five families with the baptism of Connie and Carlo’s daughter (played by an infant Sophia Coppola) is remarkable. The power of the scene cannot be understated. One of the best films I have ever seen and one that should be enjoyed by all.

Rating: 5/5

Until next time, Cheers!

Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca is a film so well-known and embedded into the fabric of American cinema that when I first saw it, the majority of the story felt like a collage of famous lines and scenes, which over the years I had experienced piece meal from Academy Awards ceremony clips, VHS video promos and parodies in other films. When I finally got around to seeing the film, it was somewhat of a letdown. I could not enjoy every aspect of the film fresh due to all the copies and homages that I had already been privy to.

Never the less there are multiple scenes which are not as famous, but pack a strong emotional and cinematic punch. Thinking that this film was released in the midst of WWII the mingling of soldiers from across the globe in Rick’s ‘jin-joint’ is quite powerful. In particular the singing of multiple national anthems. The power of the songs combined with the reaction shots of the main cast heighten the tension of the scene and the complex nature of the time.

The film is shot beautifully and must be seen for any aspiring film student, if only to be in on the conversation of the film. Even with my knowledge of the more quoted lines and homages I was still impressed by the film and recommend it to anyone.

Rating: 4/5

Until next time, Cheers!

Citizen Kane (1941)

I first came across this film in high school after the first airing of AFI’s 100 Greatest Film list. At the time I enjoyed the film, but focused primarily on the story elements.

As I have gotten older I appreciate all the subtle elements of filmmaking
Orson Welles spun to create the life story of Charles Foster Kane. It is hard to add much praise to a film almost universally recognized as one of the best examples of american cinema.

I love the use of deep focus and multiple match transition shots throughout the film. The make-up is also remarkable highlighting various points of Kane’s life from young adulthood to retirement all played by a 20 something Orson Welles. Just amazing.

My favorite shot of the film though comes midway through the picture. From a crane the camera pans down toward the ceiling window. As the camera approaches rather than cutting inside the building the camera rather seamlessly continues to move through the ceiling window and down to the characters in the night club. It is a very quick sequence, but was one of the first shots that got me excited about how the camera could be used.

It’s Terrific! (as the tag line proclaims) and a film every person should see.

Rating: 5/5

An American in Paris (1951)

Gene Kelly is magic. Every time I see him on-screen I just swoon at his grace and skill. An American in Paris like many of the Kelly musicals seems to be a plot strung together just enough to have the spectacular song and dance numbers. Unfortunately, I spent most of the picture comparing this film to the superior Singin’ in the Rain. Also, when I say that I am merely splitting hairs between excellent performances, but for my money nothing beats Gene rolling down the sidewalk and at one point literally tap dancing with skates on. (Part of this nostalgia may come from the scene in Leon where Jean Reno’s character sits awe-struck by Gene Kelley’s performance.)

Regardless of my preference, An American in Paris boasts some wonderful musical numbers. The standout being ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ sung with schoolchildren on a sidewalk. (I must have an affinity for sidewalk musical numbers) The song starts out so softly and builds and builds until Kelly spins like a helicopter off of the screen. Another favorite of mine is Gene’s character waking up at his apartment and for the first time the audience sees his morning routine. The setup of the apartment feels like a livable Rube Goldberg machine with bed, stove, desk and art supplies all intricately assembled to provide maximum use for space value. The ease of Kelley’s movement through the scene and the space of the room is remarkable. It is so effortless that it hardly seems worth commenting on, but no one can mistake the skill required to successfully pull the scene off.

While the ending number features exquisite costuming and dancing I was overwhelmed and bored with the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ feel of the performance. As I have described with the sidewalk scenes less for Gene Kelly often delivers so much more.

Rating: 4/5

Until next time, Cheers!

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

An American classic that felt some-what dated in dealing with the emotion of returning from war. Having seen a variety of films that deal with the psychology of warfare this film felt very weak in comparison. The film follows three Americans as they return home from World War II and enter back into civilian life.

Two things standout though, Harold Russell’s performance and final scene at the plane depot. First, Harold Russell who actually lost his hands in an accident is incredible as Homer re-adjusting to life back on the mainland. Throughout the picture he balances humor to mask his pain, frustration that he cannot care for himself, and the sadness of thinking about the burden he will place on his fiancée. Harold did not act in another film for nearly thirty-six years and it is a shame. He captures all the facets of a wounded soldier re-entering society.

The second impressive element takes place in an airplane depot housing the decaying remnants of bombers from the war. The sound and dialogue are kept to a minimum as one of the characters slowly walks among the machinery, even entering one of the planes. With each shot the audience is transported into these planes and into the war. It is a chilling scene were the character and audience collectively remember the war. I can only imagine the power of this scene when the film was first released just following the war’s end.  While some of the emotional punch is dated in comparison to more contemporary war films, it never the less captures a specific moment in post-war America.

Rating: 4/5

Until next time, Cheers!