Movie Project #41 and #42: Once Upon a Time in the West [1968] and The Thin Red Line [1998]

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.

Once Upon a Time in the West [1968]
Once Upon a Time in the West [1968, Sergio Leone]
Starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale.

My experience with Sergio Leone is limited. Out of his filmography, I have only seen The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, which I should probably watch again at some point. Once Upon a Time in the West bares a number of striking similarities to that epic — particularly its extended running time, masterful soundtrack and extraordinary cinematography. The opening scene alone, which has very little dialogue, captivated me from the start. Not much happened during this sequence, yet I was absolutely intrigued. The stunning shots of the wild west combined with extreme closeups of the characters’ faces were truly a thing of beauty.

It was also a lot of fun to see Henry Fonda play the villain, which is something I hadn’t seen him do before. Charles Bronson was excellent as his harmonica-playing adversary, and it was a real treat watching Claudia Cardinale as the dame caught up in the whole mess. While there was certainly a lot that I loved about the film, I was still a little turned off by the sheer longevity of it all. Leone sure loved to milk every scene as long as possible, and his attention to detail is extraordinary. I felt a little burned out by the end of the movie, but it certainly left a lasting impression on me. 8.5/10

The Thin Red Line [1998]
The Thin Red Line [1998, Terrence Malick]
Starring Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte.

Terrence Malick, seemingly a favorite director amongst movie bloggers, is someone I know I should become more familiar with. The Thin Red Line is the first film I have seen from him, and I figured this would be a great place to start, given my interest in World War II. The movie tells the story of a group of U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Mount Austen. We are introduced to a large ensemble cast of soldiers, including the likes of Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte and more. This is a really impressive group of guys, but the fact that so many were introduced made it considerably more difficult to get to know them. Outside of a few major characters, including a fantastic turn by Nolte, we learn little about most of these soldiers. In a way, however, this is just the way war is. Men are sent to perform their duties, and new faces are brought in to replace those who have fallen.

The Thin Red Line moves along at a very methodical pace, and I can see how this would deter some viewers. I didn’t mind this at all, as it gave us a chance to see Malick’s stunning shots of Guadalcanal, a beautiful island now interrupted with violent warfare. One thing that did bother me, at least somewhat, was an over-reliance on philosphophical voiceovers. I don’t have a problem with these in general, but they happened too often for my liking. Still, there’s no question that TTRL is a visually astonishing film that offers a completely different (and refreshing) take on WWII compared to 1998’s other big film, Saving Private Ryan. 8/10

Movie Project #20 and #21: The Bicycle Thief [1948] and 8 1/2 [1963]

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.

The Bicycle Thief [1948, De Sica]
The Bicycle Thief [1948, De Sica]
Starring Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell

This classic Italian neorealist film really impressed me. It’s such a simple story, but it is gripping just the same: A man living in poverty takes on a new job that requires a bicycle, but the bike gets stolen on his first day of work. Together with his young son he scours the city, desperately trying to find his bicycle so he can make money to support his family. It’s a bleak tale because it is hard not to get immersed in the world of poverty that was heavily prevalent in Italy at the time. In this regard, I loved how authentic the movie felt, and this is partly attributed to the fact that non-actors were used for many of the roles. The ending, while tragic and undeniably sad, was most appropriate and left me speechless. A fantastic drama that has easily earned its place in cinematic history. 9/10

8 1/2 [1963, Fellini]
8 1/2 [1963, Fellini]
Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Claudia Cardinale

My first Fellini film left me puzzled and confused. I am still a little unsure as to what I saw. At times, it felt like an overly self-indulgent egotrip, yet it was often hard to look away. The film is about a famous movie director who has a case of writer’s block. He has retreated to a spa to help relax and find inspiration for his upcoming sci-fi blockbuster. During this time, the movie weaves in and out of reality, as well as the director’s dreams. Some scenes are quite memorable (the harem dream scene in which all of the women in his life come together is particularly brilliant), yet I felt others fall flat. One element that is consistent is the beautiful imagery — there seemed to be an emphasis on style over substance. The stream of consciousness narrative reminded me a lot of Synecdoche, New York (obviously influenced by 8 1/2), a movie that bored me beyond belief. As a piece of art, there’s no denying 8 1/2 has exceptional style. It just struggled to keep me entertained throughout. 6/10

What do you guys think? Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear some counterpoints for 8 1/2.