Movie Project #42: On the Waterfront [1954]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

On the Waterfront [1954]

On the Waterfront [1954]
Director: Elia Kazan
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint and Lee J. Cobb
Runtime: 108 minutes

“You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”

One of my favorite aspects in embarking on this 50 Movies Project is finally seeing the films from which well-known lines originated. “I coulda been a contender” has been used and spoofed countless times over the years, but in the context of On the Waterfront, it still remains in a powerful scene — a highlight of an exceptional film.

On the Waterfront [1954]

Marlon Brando stars as Terry Malloy, an ex-prizefighter who now works on the docks of New York City. His brother, Charley (Rod Steiger), is a major figurehead in the local mob that also happens to control the dockworkers’ union. The mob boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), runs the docks with an iron fist, and he is not afraid to “snuff” out anyone who speaks out against him.

Moral issues come into play when Terry witnesses the murder of a worker who was set to testify against the mob. Terry was used to coax the worker onto a roof, but he was told they were going to talk it out, not kill the man. Already feeling guilty about the death, Terry is pleaded to help by the murdered man’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), and the local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden). As he becomes smitten with Edie and listens to Father Barry’s powerful sermons, Terry is forced to confront his own guilty conscience, something he has suppressed his entire life.

On the Waterfront [1954]

Corruption is a major focus of the film, but there is also a poignant love story underneath. Terry Malloy has a tough outer shell, and he may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is an exceptional character with a good heart. Edie realizes there’s more to him than what’s initially seen, and their connection feels real and natural.

In fact, the film itself has a very authentic feel to it, partly because it was filmed on-location in Hoboken, NJ. Some of the mob goons used were even ex-prizefighters themselves. Even though this is nearly a 60 year old story, it still holds relevance today.

On the Waterfront [1954]

Much has been said of Marlon Brando’s performance in this, and the high praise is well deserved. His moments with Eva Marie Saint are especially brilliant, though it is his scene with Rod Steiger in the back of the limo that everyone remembers (the “contender” line). I was also impressed with Karl Malden’s role as the priest, a very important figure in the film.

On the Waterfront received an extraordinary twelve Academy Award nominations, winning eight of them (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay). Its importance in cinematic history cannot be denied, as evidenced by its appearance in no less than seven American Film Institute lists. Still effective today, On the Waterfront warrants a highest recommendation.

9/10

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Movie Project #40: Chicago [2002]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Chicago [2002]

Chicago [2002]
Director: Rob Marshall
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Musical
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly
Runtime: 113 minutes

I approached my viewing of Chicago with an open mind. I was feeling optimistic — after all, I had went through a good run of musicals (Singin’ in the Rain, Moulin Rouge!, Dancer in the Dark) that made me look at the genre with renewed interest. Maybe I was being biased for no good reason and I just needed to see a few strong musicals to make me a fan. I was all set to love this, especially since the film was set in my city (albeit in the 1920s). All of the pieces were aligned, but alas, Chicago didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Based on the stage musical of the same name, Chicago revolves around two murderesses who are in jail and awaiting trial in the 1920s. Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) is charged with the murder of Fred Casely (Dominic West), her lover who never gave her the broadway gigs he promised her. She dreams of being a vaudeville star like Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is also sent to jail after killing her husband and sister, whom she finds in bed together. Faced with the prospect of death sentences, the two women enlist the services of highly talented lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to set them free.

There is also a sense of jealousy between the two women. Velma is the queen of the roost, so to speak, and she gets all of the headlines due to her past popularity. Roxie is envious of this and does everything she can to weasel her way into the newspapers — much to Velma’s dismay.

Chicago [2002]

Now, while some may find interest in the satirical plot, the appeal of Chicago lies in its bombastic song-and-dance numbers. This is a film that revels in its visual style, piecing together large and exuberant dance routines with a distinct Jazz Age flair. The set pieces are fantastic; the costumes, flamboyant. It’s easy to get lost in the flashy showtunes, despite the fact that most songs are utterly forgettable. “All That Jazz” is a treat, but nothing else really left a mark on me.

Ultimately, that is the biggest problem I had with Chicago. Outside of the glitz and the glamour, this is a film with very little substance. I enjoyed the spectacle of it all, but everything felt shallow, and I lacked any real connection to the characters or the proceedings. Taken on its merits, there is a certain amount of charm. I was just hoping for more… substance.

Chicago [2002]

Still, there are some brilliant performances that beg to be recognized, particularly that of Catherine Zeta-Jones. She is absolutely stunning as Velma Kelly, and it was always a treat to watch her on screen. I have no complaints about her winning an Oscar — she really is that damn good. Zellweger and Gere are also up to the task in their performances, though they did not leave as much of a lasting impression. Special mention should be made of two entertaining supporting roles — John C. Reilly as Amos Hart, Roxie’s cuckolded husband, and Queen Latifah as “Mama” Morton, the strong and independent matron of the Cook County Jail.

While I did enjoy Chicago overall, I just didn’t connect with it in the way I was hoping. I get the appeal of it, and its visual style is certainly impressive, but it’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to how this won Best Picture in a year stacked with great films.

7/10

Movie Project #38: Lady Vengeance [2005]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Lady Vengeance [2005]

Lady Vengeance [2005]
Director: Park Chan-wook
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi and Shi-hoo Kim
Runtime: 112 minutes

Revenge is a tried-and-true plot device in film, but rarely is this concept taken to the depths provided in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy. After two punishing yet brilliant films in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, Park closed out the trilogy with arguably his most stylish film yet: Lady Vengeance.

Lee Young Ae stars as Lee Geum-ja, a reformed female prisoner who was convicted for a crime she did not actually commit: the murder of a young boy. After years of good behavior and a total change in her spirituality, she is released earlier than expected. While others pester her as soon as he gets out, Geum-ja has just one thing on her mind: revenge.

Lady Vengeance [2005]

Her target is Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik, a.k.a Oh Dae-su from Oldboy), the actual murderer of the young child. On her quest for vengeance, Geum-ja also reunites with her teenage daughter, Jenny (Yea-young Kwon), who was threatened by Baek during the initial killing. The transition from prison to the real world is jarring, but Geum-ja is on a mission and there’s no way anything is going to stop her in her mind.

Lady Vengeance moves at a more methodical pace than its predecessors in the trilogy, and it takes some time to pick up on just what is happening. The first act of the film flips back and forth between the present and Geum-ja’s days in prison, and it becomes a tad confusing at times. However, the second act represents a major tonal shift, and the big revenge payoff is dramatic, bloody and unforgettable.

Lady Vengeance [2005]

As the most stylish film of the three, Lady Vengeance impresses visually. There are some truly stunning shots, many of which make fantastic use of color. Perhaps this is why the film takes its time in telling the story — so we can enjoy its sheer beauty.

It’s difficult to fully satisfy when forced to live up to the legacy provided by the amazing first two films of the trilogy, and perhaps Lady Vengeance suffers from these comparisons. I quite enjoyed the film overall, but it is clearly the weakest of the three. Regardless, it can be stated that Park Chan-wook knows how to go out with style, as the closing shot is one I will not be forgetting.

7.5/10

Movie Project #35: O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Genre: Comedy/Adventure/Crime
Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman and Holly Hunter
Runtime: 106 minutes

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of those films that just slipped through the cracks for me over the years. I remember the soundtrack being a hot commodity — and damn that bluegrass is infectious — but never sat down to watch the entire movie. It’s a shame that it took me twelve years to see this because this is yet another ridiculously fun effort from the Coen brothers.

Set in 1930s rural Mississippi and loosely based on Homer’s “The Odyssey”, the film follows the exploits of three escaped convicts who are in search of hidden treasure. The trio, comprised of de facto leader Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney) and his two pals, Pete Hogwallop (Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Nelson), run into all sorts of trouble on their journey. Not only are they constantly chased by the law, they also have a habit of becoming entangled in other unexpected endeavors. They form a bluegrass group — the Soggy Bottom Boys — with a young black musician named Tommy (Chris Thomas King), and as a result somehow get caught up in a political race as well as a KKK rally. The group also comes across undesirable characters including a trio of “Sirens”, a one-eyed bible thumper (Goodman) and a bipolar bank robber named George Nelson (Michael Badalucco).

Oh yeah, and in the middle of this, Ulysses is trying to get back with his estranged wife, Penny (Holly Hunter). It’s a wild ride for sure.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

At its core, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a road movie, and we are there for the entire epic adventure. The aforementioned run-ins with other characters lead to a number of memorable scenes, many of which are so ridiculous that it’s hard not to fall in love with them. Of course, the addictive soundtrack adds even more to the overall film, and even non-bluegrass fans should enjoy the catchy tunes. Even as I sit here writing this review, I have “Man of Constant Sorrow” stuck in my head. That’s a good thing.

Clooney, Turturro and Nelson make for an entertaining trio, and they play off each other fantastically. Clooney’s natural charisma makes him the obvious choice for the leader of the group, but I was most impressed with Nelson’s humorous slack-jawed yokel of a performance. The overall cast is amazingly well-rounded, with great takes from Goodman, Hunter and my personal favorite, Stephen Root, who plays a blind radio station manager that gives the Soggy Bottom Boys their big break.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

While some may find fault in how O Brother, Where Art Thou? sometimes feels like a collection of short films thrown together as one, there’s no denying that this is uproarious fun from beginning to end. The Coen brothers have a knack for these zany comedies, and the script is full of brilliant, quick-witted dialogue. I had a great time with this film, and I get the feeling that this is one that just gets better with age.

8.5/10

Movie Project #33: The Sting [1973]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Sting [1973]

The Sting [1973]
Director: George Roy Hill
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Drama
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw
Runtime: 129 minutes

In the context of the film’s title, the term “sting” refers to a deceptive operation designed by con artists to swindle a target of their money. The actual “sting” happens when the operation is complete. If handled correctly, the rube won’t even know what hit ’em, and the cons make out like bandits. It takes some true professionals to pull something like that off.

The Sting tells a story of two such professionals, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), who work together in an attempt to pull off “the big con.” Their target is the infamous mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), a mean son-of-a-bitch who the duo became intangled with after unknowningly conning $11,000 in cash from one his couriers. Hooker and Gondorff enlist the aid of dozens of other associates in their attempt to steal a good chunk of Lonnegan’s money. This becomes an intricately detailed plan, with the group eventually setting up a fake off-track betting parlor, complete with a phony announcer and patrons.

The Sting [1973]

Watching Hooker, Gondorff and their bit players work together to pull off this con is a thing of beauty. These guys are masters at their craft, and every person serves a purpose in their plan. This plan appears to be coming together perfectly, but it soon becomes convoluted once undercover FBI agents, a crooked cop and an unsuspected individual all become involved. With so many others in the mix, it’s a little difficult to keep track of everything, and I kept questioning just who was conning who. By the time of the big “sting” scene, my thoughts were scrambled and I had no clue what exactly was going to happen. This impressed me quite a bit, actually, as I like to think I have a good sense for what’s going to happen in caper films like this. Director George Roy Hill and writer David S. Ward kept me on my toes with this one, and I couldn’t be happier about all my second guessing.

In line with the 1930s Chicago setting, the film adds a certain whimsical feel by including a ragtime era soundtrack, as well as using old-fashioned title cards to announce each section of the movie. These are nice touches that help keep the film lighthearted, even as the plot digs deeper and deeper.

The Sting [1973]

Of course, much of the film’s success rides on the shoulders of the immensely talented cast. Newman and Redford have tremendous chemistry, perhaps even surpassing their entertaining pairing in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (also directed by Hill). They are so much fun to watch together, and they have a worthy adversary in the form of Robert Shaw, who plays the target with a certain “cartoonish” vibe. Other highlights include Charles Durning and Ray Walston, the former of which plays the crooked cop, an integral character in the story.

The Sting was a wildly successful film, earning nearly $160 million on a $5.5 million budget. It also cleaned up at the Oscars, earning ten nominations while winning seven (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay). With such impressive accolades, I was primed to be let down by the film, but this blew me away. As far as caper films go, I can’t think of much better than The Sting.

9/10

Movie Project #32: The Blues Brothers [1980]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The Blues Brothers [1980]
Director: John Landis
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Music
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Carrie Fisher
Runtime: 133 minutes (extended: 147 minutes)

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

As a Chicago resident, it’s almost blasphemous that I just now saw The Blues Brothers for the first time. This much-loved 1980 musical/comedy/action/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it is pretty much the quintessential Chicago movie, and it has a bit of a legendary status around here. Hell, last month Wrigley Field held a screening of the film (though the $20 bleacher and $40 lawn seats were too pricey for me). To say it was due time for me to familiarize myself with this is an understatement.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The eponymous brothers are, of course, “Joliet” Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd). The film begins with Jake being released from Joliet Prison, making sure to grab his retained items on the way out (including “one unused prophylactic” and “one soiled”). Elwood picks him up in what they call the Bluesmobile — a beat-up 1974 Dodge Monaco patrol car. Before being incarcarated, Jake had promised the nun at their childhood orphanage that she would be the first person he would visit after being released. Upon arriving, the brothers are hit with the news that the orphanage will be forced to close unless $5,000 in property taxes are collected. Some financial brainstorming, aided by a trip to a wildly entertaining gospel church service, leads Jake and Elwood to discover a way to help come up with the money. Their plan? Re-form the Blues Brothers rhythm & blues band.

In order to do so, the siblings drive around the Chicagoland suburbs, making stops to attempt to lure their old bandmates back for their fundraiser gig. This hilariously leads to random musical encounters in which they run into legit musicians, all playing minor characters. The aforementioned church service is led by James Brown, who may be the coolest reverend I have ever seen. Other noteworthy appearances include Aretha Franklin running a soul food restaurant, Ray Charles owning a music shop, and John Lee Hooker jamming on a South Side street. Not knowing much about the film, these musical interludes were a pleasant surprise, and many of them were absolute highlights.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

There are two extended scenes in the film that I loved the hell out of. One is when the band, in their first gig in years, masquerades as “The Good Ol’ Boys”, a country group in a divey hick bar way outside of the city. The bartender reassures the guys that they have “both kinds of music here, Country AND Western“. With little choice, the band hops on stage. Their opening blues jam doesn’t go over well with the local folk, so they improvise by playing — what else? — the “Rawhide” theme song. Throw in a cover of “Stand By Your Man” and slowly they start to win over the increasingly drunker patrons. And with this scene, I fell in love with the movie.

Later, the big Chicago moments arrive. Watching the brothers drive their Bluesmobile through all sorts of familiar locations — lower Wacker Drive, Lake Street and the Daley Center, to name a few — was a lot of fun. Even more entertaining was watching them destroy damn near everything in their path, Daley Center included. As the cop cars continued to pile up, I just couldn’t believe how much damage was being done. This would have been crazy as hell to see being filmed, that’s for sure.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

While the stars of the film are undoubtedly Aykroyd and Belushi, it was Aykroyd who nailed it with his famous remark, “Chicago is one of the stars of the movie. We wrote it as a tribute.

I’m not sure what the differences are between the theatrical cut and extended version, but I watched the latter. I feel there were probably two or three unnecessary scenes included, as the nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime was a little exhausting. Regardless, I can’t say I have seen another film like The Blues Brothers, a rambunctious ode to my favorite city.

8/10

Movie Project #32: The Blues Brothers [1980]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The Blues Brothers [1980]
Director: John Landis
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Music
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Carrie Fisher
Runtime: 133 minutes (extended: 147 minutes)

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

As a Chicago resident, it’s almost blasphemous that I just now saw The Blues Brothers for the first time. This much-loved 1980 musical/comedy/action/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it is pretty much the quintessential Chicago movie, and it has a bit of a legendary status around here. Hell, last month Wrigley Field held a screening of the film (though the $20 bleacher and $40 lawn seats were too pricey for me). To say it was due time for me to familiarize myself with this is an understatement.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The eponymous brothers are, of course, “Joliet” Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd). The film begins with Jake being released from Joliet Prison, making sure to grab his retained items on the way out (including “one unused prophylactic” and “one soiled”). Elwood picks him up in what they call the Bluesmobile — a beat-up 1974 Dodge Monaco patrol car. Before being incarcarated, Jake had promised the nun at their childhood orphanage that she would be the first person he would visit after being released. Upon arriving, the brothers are hit with the news that the orphanage will be forced to close unless $5,000 in property taxes are collected. Some financial brainstorming, aided by a trip to a wildly entertaining gospel church service, leads Jake and Elwood to discover a way to help come up with the money. Their plan? Re-form the Blues Brothers rhythm & blues band.

In order to do so, the siblings drive around the Chicagoland suburbs, making stops to attempt to lure their old bandmates back for their fundraiser gig. This hilariously leads to random musical encounters in which they run into legit musicians, all playing minor characters. The aforementioned church service is led by James Brown, who may be the coolest reverend I have ever seen. Other noteworthy appearances include Aretha Franklin running a soul food restaurant, Ray Charles owning a music shop, and John Lee Hooker jamming on a South Side street. Not knowing much about the film, these musical interludes were a pleasant surprise, and many of them were absolute highlights.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

There are two extended scenes in the film that I loved the hell out of. One is when the band, in their first gig in years, masquerades as “The Good Ol’ Boys”, a country group in a divey hick bar way outside of the city. The bartender reassures the guys that they have “both kinds of music here, Country AND Western“. With little choice, the band hops on stage. Their opening blues jam doesn’t go over well with the local folk, so they improvise by playing — what else? — the “Rawhide” theme song. Throw in a cover of “Stand By Your Man” and slowly they start to win over the increasingly drunker patrons. And with this scene, I fell in love with the movie.

Later, the big Chicago moments arrive. Watching the brothers drive their Bluesmobile through all sorts of familiar locations — lower Wacker Drive, Lake Street and the Daley Center, to name a few — was a lot of fun. Even more entertaining was watching them destroy damn near everything in their path, Daley Center included. As the cop cars continued to pile up, I just couldn’t believe how much damage was being done. This would have been crazy as hell to see being filmed, that’s for sure.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

While the stars of the film are undoubtedly Aykroyd and Belushi, it was Aykroyd who nailed it with his famous remark, “Chicago is one of the stars of the movie. We wrote it as a tribute.

I’m not sure what the differences are between the theatrical cut and extended version, but I watched the latter. I feel there were probably two or three unnecessary scenes included, as the nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime was a little exhausting. Regardless, I can’t say I have seen another film like The Blues Brothers, a rambunctious ode to my favorite city.

8/10

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]
Directors: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman
Runtime: 164 minutes

Note: I tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but you may want to tread lightly in the comments/feedback.

Eight years is a long time. After the wanton chaos and destruction in 2008’s The Dark Knight, it’s hard to imagine Gotham City remaining in a peaceful state for eight long years, especially without their legendary protector, Batman.

The man behind their hero, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), has also gone missing during this time. Now a recluse with a bum leg, Wayne spends his days locked inside Wayne Manor. It’s not until a run-in with master jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) that Bruce musters up the will to do anything meaningful. Quickly he learns about the recent appearance of a monstrous villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), who is on a mission to destroy Gotham. Despite warnings from his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Wayne once again suits up as Batman to save his beloved city.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

That is a summary of the plot in its most basic form, but at a sprawling 165 minutes, there is a lot to digest. Bane’s planned destruction of Gotham is at the forefront, but a number of minor characters are introduced into the chaos, all of whom are tied into this in a variety of ways. Newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt has an especially crucial role as rookie police officer John Blake, a clever lad who acts as a bit of an understudy to Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) while also discovering Batman’s identity on his own. Two other newcomers play important parts in this ever-encompassing saga: Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, who has a very complex relationship with Batman/Wayne, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a philanthropist investor with an interest in Wayne Industries.

All of these characters, and many old favorites, are seamlessly interweaved together to create a grand feature that can holds its own against the rest of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. A strong case could be made for any of the three to be the “best” of the bunch, and right now I would put this a close second to The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012] -- BANE

A big reason why this film succeeds is because of its main villain. Every good superhero movie needs a badass adversary, and Bane is one of the best yet. Menacing and physically dominating, Bane is frightening nearly every time he is on screen. As I witnessed the destruction of Gotham City first hand, I was wondering just how the hell Batman and/or the city would make it out in one piece. Bane is as intimidating as I have seen any villain in recent years, and his bizarre face mask only adds to his daunting persona. There were a few moments where his mask would make it hard to understand his dialogue, and his audio did seem unnecessarily louder than others, but these are mere nitpicks. The dude is impressive, and he is a more than worthy rival to our legendary hero.

For a film pushing three hours in length, there really isn’t a lot of “fat” here. Everything happens for a reason, and most plot devices are explained in depth for newcomers (or those who need a quick refresher). There are definitely moments in which a certain amount of suspension of disbelief will be required, including the much-discussed ending, but that is to be expected in a fictional universe like this. Taken on its merits, The Dark Knight Rises works exactly as it should.

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

Is this a perfect film? No, not exactly. The weird audio problems with Bane are a little too noticeable, and I found occasional bits of dialogue from others that irked me the wrong way. There is one cop early in the movie, a very minor character, who has maybe three lines of dialogue total. Even though he was incredibly minute in the big picture, I winced every time he was on screen. Each line was forced and unnecessary, and it felt strangely out of place while in the middle of an epic car chase. Again, I am really nitpicking here, but that stuck with me for some reason.

Regardless, tiny complaints aside, I couldn’t ask for a better conclusion than The Dark Knight Rises. The story, the cast, the characters, Han Zimmer’s score. All top quality. This is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen, and I would be hard pressed to find a better summer blockbuster this year.

9/10

Movie Project #25: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]
Director: Shane Black
Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan
Runtime: 103 minutes

Look up idiot in the dictionary. You know what you’ll find?
A picture of me?
No! The definition of the word “idiot”! Which you fucking are!

Now where in the hell did this movie come from? It’s rare that a film can combine dark comedy, action and mystery so effortlessly in one package. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has all of this, with a satirical spin on Film Noir to boot.

The always charismatic Robert Downey Jr. stars as Harry Lockhart, a common thief who acts as the meta narrator for our story. After a botched robbery attempt, Lockhart cleverly evades police by running into an ongoing audition for a detective movie. The part, conveniently enough, is eerily similar to the exact situation Lockhart is going through at that moment. He nails the gig, eludes the cops and gets a part in the movie. Now THAT’S how you run from the law.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

To train for his role, Lockhart is teamed up with private investigator Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), commonly known as “Gay Perry”. While working on a case, the duo unwittingly stumble upon a vast conspiracy involving kidnapping and murder, and they soon become swept into a web of crime. Also caught in the heat of things is Lockhart’s high school sweetheart, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan), who he happens to run into at a Hollywood party.

What transpires is an expertly written mystery that is both hysterical and suspenseful. The movie moves at a brisk pace, one that is occasionally hard to keep up with but always entertaining. The laughs are dark and crude, without resorting to slapstick or lazy humor. The story doesn’t take long to spiral out of control and it stretches the boundaries of believability (okay, it is hardly believable at all), but that doesn’t matter. This is a self-aware movie that revels in its irreverence.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

And who better to play the lead narrator/thief/pseudo-actor than Robert Downey Jr.? The man’s comedic timing and delivery is impeccable, and he plays the lead with just the right amount of cynicism. His chemistry with the surprisingly buoyant Val Kilmer is off the charts. In fact, there are moments where Kilmer steals the scene. His “Gay Perry” delivers some brilliant wisecracks, a perfect complement to Downey’s zaniness. Bonus points go out to Michelle Monaghan who is as stunning as I have seen her, and boy does she know it in this film.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of the last decade’s more underrated films. Somehow this slipped under my radar (and many others, apparently) and I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this gem. Sure, the plot can be hard to keep up with, but damn if this isn’t an fun and wild ride. I am very glad to have included this in my project.

8/10

Movie Project #20: Touch of Evil [1958]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Touch of Evil [1958]

Touch of Evil [1958]
Director: Orson Welles
Genre: Crime/Film Noir/Thriller
Starring: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles and Janet Leigh
Runtime: 95 minutes

Touch of Evil had me hooked from the opening shot. The three-and-a-half minute tracking shot begins with a man sneakily placing a bomb in the trunk of a car. A couple enters the car and begins driving slowly through town, not knowing that their lives are in danger. They are forced to stop on multiple occasions to let pedestrians cross the road. As they sit waiting, the suspense reaches new heights. When will this bomb go off?

The car continues moving forward. Now we see happy newlyweds walking down the street — later, we learn that this is drug enforcement official Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) and his wife Susie (Janet Leigh). As they walk down the street, they continue to cross paths with the slow moving vehicle. We can practically hear the bomb ticking… we know it’s going to go off, but when??

The car reaches the US/Mexico border. After some banter with the border patrol, the riders are sent through to American soil, where the bomb promptly explodes. Talk about a hell of an introduction… welcome to Touch of Evil.

Touch of Evil [1958]

Orson Welles’ gritty Film Noir never lets up after the opening scene. This is a technical masterpiece, with some truly stunning cinematography. It’s easy to just sit back and stare in awe at the visual prowess on screen, but yes, there is a terrific crime story to back it up.

The fact that a Mexican bomb blew up on American soil is very bad news for Vargas’ home country, so he decides to keep tabs on the ongoing investigation. All sorts of police officers arrive on scene, but two of them take charge: Captain Harry Quinlan (Orson Welles) and his faithful partner Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia). Quinlan, a sweaty, unshaven man of immense girth, immediately butts heads with Vargas, who insists that he will not get in the way. However, when Vargas (rightfully) suspects Quinlan of planting evidence at the crime scene, the testosterone battle reaches new, murky depths.

Touch of Evil has many twists and turns, and it digs heavily into police corruption thanks to Orson Welles’ role as one of the greatest villains in cinematic history. His Quinlan is not a good man, though he may have once been, and he is the type of guy who will do anything to maintain his position as top dog. Welles plays him with a snarl, delivering a dark and unforgettable performance. Charlton Heston is also terrific as the drug enforcement agent Vargas, even though it is laughable that he is supposed to be Mexican. Special mention must be made of Janet Leigh, who is brilliant even as her poor character gets innocently caught up in the middle of this web of crime.

Touch of Evil [1958]

Touch of Evil has been released as three different versions. The original 1958 theatrical cut was a 93 minute hack job that was revised without Welles’ knowledge (or so he claimed). In 1976, a new version was discovered and released, though it still included several re-shot scenes (even moreso than the original cut). Finally, in 1998, the most complete version was released, as most of Welles’ original complaints were addressed, and the film was pieced together per his former requests. This is the version I ended up seeing, and by all accounts, this is the best one.

As much as I love Citizen Kane, a strong case could be made for Touch of Evil being my new favorite Orson Welles film. I fell in love with the film right from the beginning, and its dark subject matter kept me intrigued throughout. As far as Film Noirs go, it doesn’t get much better than this (even with Heston as a Mexican).

9/10