Movie Project #20: Face/Off [1997]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Face/Off [1997]

Face/Off [1997]
Director: John Woo
Writers: Mike Werb, Michael Colleary
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Crime/Sci-Fi
Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen
Running Time: 138 minutes

Going into Face/Off, I was hoping for a ridiculous, over-the-top action flick, and that’s exactly what I got. John Woo’s third American film is genius in that it sets up two of Hollywood’s craziest actors and lets both of them go off the rails.

Nicolas Cage is at his most deliriously best right from the get-go, playing a terrorist supervillain named Castor Troy. His archenemy is John Travolta’s Sean Archer, an FBI agent who is seeking revenge for the murder of his young son (killed by Troy, of course). Their first confrontation in the film depicts the age old battle of airplane vs. helicopter. Later, they fight on top of a speeding powerboat. The action scenes are signature Woo — stylish as all hell, and full of spectacular explosions.

Continue reading

Movie Project #39: Life is Beautiful [1997]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Life is Beautiful [1997]
Director: Roberto Benigni
Writers: Vincenzo Cerami (story), Roberto Benigni (story)
Country: Italy
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Running Time: 116 minutes

Life is Beautiful is a brave film in many ways. It starts off as a comedy about a man, Guido (Robert Benigni), who is so desperately trying to win the love of a beautiful school teacher, Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife). He drums up a series of “coincidences” that leads him to falling off his bike into her arms, and he even infiltrates her school just to see her by posing as an Italian fascist inspector. His big speech to the students praises the superiority of the Italian race and their perfect earlobes and navels, all in jest, of course.

To Guido, everything is a joke. His sense of humor and comedic timing are what gets him through an increasingly hostile Italy in 1939. See, Guido is a Jewish man, and he is becoming a more and more frequent target of hate by the locals. His uncle, Eliseo (Giustino Durano), is already dealing with the newfound animosity, as his storefront is wrecked by some fascist vandals.

Yet Guido perseveres, putting on a smiling front and taking it all in stride. Eventually, he gets his girl (in the most epic fashion, riding a white horse spray painted in racial epithets), and things seem to be looking up.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Fast forward five years later. Guido and Dora are now married with a young child, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). They own a book store, and despite a crude sign announcing the owner is a Jew, they make the best of it. That is until the Nazis come into town, rounding up every Jew in the area, Guido and young Joshua included. Dora, after learning of their seizure, runs to the local train station, demanding to be brought on board with them. After some deliberation, she is allowed to board the packed train, which has the most horrific destination imaginable: a concentration camp.

Guido, bless his heart, continues to try to make the best of the situation. He spins this trip into a game for his young son, telling him that he will get a tank if he wins the game. Surely Guido knows the chances of this ending well are slim, but his outgoing demeanor tries to cheer up the spirits of those around him, especially his son.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Now, this is where the film grows bold in its delivery, and it has received a great deal of criticism for its approach. Guido is constantly cracking jokes (“Buttons and soap out of people? That’ll be the day!”) about a very sensitive and very real atrocity. Sometimes his attempts to be funny are just flat out obnoxious and inconsiderate, such as when he pretends to speak German just so he can jokingly translate orders from a Nazi officer. I get that Guido (and Benigni himself) is just trying to make the best of a horrible situation, but he really should know his limits.

Still, even with these potentially inappropriate moments, there is a great story underneath it all. This is a tale of the strength of a family, and the bond of love between father and son, and husband and wife. This is about a man who can find the beauty in life, even in the most dire situations. While Benigni can overstep the line past obnoxiousness, his Chaplin-esque antics are visually appealing. There is a certain type of charm to his character, and we could all learn something from his optimistic views.

8/10

Movie Project #39: Life is Beautiful [1997]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Life is Beautiful [1997]
Director: Roberto Benigni
Writers: Vincenzo Cerami (story), Roberto Benigni (story)
Country: Italy
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Running Time: 116 minutes

Life is Beautiful is a brave film in many ways. It starts off as a comedy about a man, Guido (Robert Benigni), who is so desperately trying to win the love of a beautiful school teacher, Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife). He drums up a series of “coincidences” that leads him to falling off his bike into her arms, and he even infiltrates her school just to see her by posing as an Italian fascist inspector. His big speech to the students praises the superiority of the Italian race and their perfect earlobes and navels, all in jest, of course.

To Guido, everything is a joke. His sense of humor and comedic timing are what gets him through an increasingly hostile Italy in 1939. See, Guido is a Jewish man, and he is becoming a more and more frequent target of hate by the locals. His uncle, Eliseo (Giustino Durano), is already dealing with the newfound animosity, as his storefront is wrecked by some fascist vandals.

Yet Guido perseveres, putting on a smiling front and taking it all in stride. Eventually, he gets his girl (in the most epic fashion, riding a white horse spray painted in racial epithets), and things seem to be looking up.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Fast forward five years later. Guido and Dora are now married with a young child, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). They own a book store, and despite a crude sign announcing the owner is a Jew, they make the best of it. That is until the Nazis come into town, rounding up every Jew in the area, Guido and young Joshua included. Dora, after learning of their seizure, runs to the local train station, demanding to be brought on board with them. After some deliberation, she is allowed to board the packed train, which has the most horrific destination imaginable: a concentration camp.

Guido, bless his heart, continues to try to make the best of the situation. He spins this trip into a game for his young son, telling him that he will get a tank if he wins the game. Surely Guido knows the chances of this ending well are slim, but his outgoing demeanor tries to cheer up the spirits of those around him, especially his son.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Now, this is where the film grows bold in its delivery, and it has received a great deal of criticism for its approach. Guido is constantly cracking jokes (“Buttons and soap out of people? That’ll be the day!”) about a very sensitive and very real atrocity. Sometimes his attempts to be funny are just flat out obnoxious and inconsiderate, such as when he pretends to speak German just so he can jokingly translate orders from a Nazi officer. I get that Guido (and Benigni himself) is just trying to make the best of a horrible situation, but he really should know his limits.

Still, even with these potentially inappropriate moments, there is a great story underneath it all. This is a tale of the strength of a family, and the bond of love between father and son, and husband and wife. This is about a man who can find the beauty in life, even in the most dire situations. While Benigni can overstep the line past obnoxiousness, his Chaplin-esque antics are visually appealing. There is a certain type of charm to his character, and we could all learn something from his optimistic views.

8/10

Movie Project #14: L.A. Confidential [1997]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

L.A. Confidential [1997]

L.A. Confidential [1997]
Directors: Curtis Hanson
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Language: English
Country: USA

When I played through the fantastic LA Noire video game this summer, I could not help but get swept into the dark and seedy world of 1940’s Los Angeles. Many, many articles and reviews on the game mentioned its influences: old school Film Noir, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett novels, and perhaps the biggest, L.A. Confidential. I was ecstatic to finally see this 1997 modern noir title.

Set in 1950s Los Angeles, L.A. Confidential revolves around three officers in the LAPD. There’s Bud White (Russell Crowe), a quick-tempered cop who does anything to punish woman-beaters. There’s Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a rookie officer who wants to do everything by the book and refuses to break the law to provide justice. Naturally, this makes him an outcast in the department. There’s Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a narcotics detective who is in cahoots with Hush-Hush tabloid magazine editor Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito). His side “job” is arresting celebrities and letting Sid take photos of them caught in the act.

L.A. Confidential [1997]

These three men become intertwined in a web of corruption, deceit and lies within the police department, all of which happens after a coffee shop massacre leaves six people dead, including a crooked police officer. So many subplots, characters and areas are brought up throughout the film’s 138 minute runtime, but this is expertly manipulated by director Curtis Hanson in a way that brings everything together. It really is fascinating how the movie brings in so many different details, yet is able to have everything make sense in the end.

There are two other major players in the movie who must be mentioned. Dudley Smith (the always excellent James Cromwell) is the leader of the police department. He has a tendency to call his men “good lads” and encourages them to twist the law in order to deliver justice. Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) is the female of choice, a Veronica Lake look-alike hooker who is dragged into the mess due to the coffee shop death of a fellow Hollywood starlet-imposter prostitute.

L.A. Confidential [1997]

There is so much to like about L.A. Confidential. The acting is phenomenal, with what is truly an amazing cast. So many big names, all of whom are deserving of their recognition from this film. Guy Pearce in particular stood out to me, as he effortlessly succeeds in playing a sniveling little snitch who crawls under your skin. Yet by the end of the movie, his performance led me to gain a new-found respect for his character. Maybe there is some merit in playing by the rules?

Not once did L.A. Confidential feel tedious. The movie runs at a brisk pace with a lot of thrilling moments. The dialogue is sharp, the story elegant, and the characters are terrific. This is everything I could have hoped for in a modern noir, and as it stands right now, this is my favorite movie I have seen so far in this project. Simply amazing.

10/10

Questions For The Movie Answer Man [Roger Ebert, 1997]

Questions For The Movie Answer Man [Roger Ebert]

Questions For The Movie Answer Man
Author: Roger Ebert
Original Release: June 1997

In my latest trip to the library, I decided to peruse the movie book section. Naturally, being in Chicago, there were a large number of books by Roger Ebert sitting on the shelf. I decided to pick up a couple of them since I have been gaining a larger appreciation for his work as of late. One of these books, Questions For The Movie Answer Man, is a compilation of his newspaper columns in which he would answer questions about movies submitted by his readers.

Since this book was published in 1997, it is obviously rather dated. Ebert frequently brings up CompuServe, VHS tapes, LaserDiscs and other technological mediums that are indicative of the time period. A good portion of the book’s content is based on popular movies during that time as well — there are multiple Q&As about Forrest Gump, Independence Day and Pulp Fiction, just to name a few examples. Some of these references are laughable today, as are many of the questions that readers have sent in. It’s hard to find any utility in this book in this day and age since we now have the ability to use IMDB and Wikipedia to obtain movie information, and even Snopes to learn about urban legends (i.e. the infamous munchkin hanging from Wizard of Oz).

I have no doubts that in 1997 this book would have been a fun, quick read. However, not even Ebert’s quick wit can make this dated publication worth reading today. While I got a chuckle out of a handful of his occasional snarky replies, I can’t help but feel I should have just watched a movie instead of taking the time to read this. Do yourself a favor and go to the cinema instead — I’m sure even Ebert would approve of this behavior.

5/10