Movie Project #27: Top Gun [1986]

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.

Top Gun [1986]

Top Gun [1986] 
Director: Tony Scott
Writers: Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr.
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Drama/Romance
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards
Running Time: 110 minutes

It’s near impossible to watch Top Gun without thinking of the countless references and parodies it has spawned since its release. Between the running “Danger Zone” gags in Archer and Quentin Tarantino’s infamous homosexuality theory (not to mention Hot Shots!), there’s just no way Top Gun can be taken seriously. Of course, it helps that the film itself is a loud, brash “AMERICA FUCK YEAH!” Polaroid-taking, middle finger-waving, karaoke-singing cinematic spectacle.

Top Gun is about two things: fighter jets and “Maverick” Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise), a cocky navy pilot who is both reckless and dangerous (Danger Zone!) yet can manage to win people over just by flashing his blinding smile. Maverick and his best pal Goose (Anthony Edwards) are recruited to attend the Navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School (aka “Top Gun”) where the small group of students compete to be the best in the class. The top competition at the school is the smug and confident Iceman (Val Kilmer), who immediately butts heads with the loudmouthed Maverick. Their rivalry serves as the crux of the movie, with both men attempting to win the prestigious “best in class” award.

Top Gun [1986]

Along the way, Maverick falls in love with his school instructor, Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), deals with the tragic death of his best friend, and continuously gets reprimanded by his superiors. Yet even with so much going on, he never changes. There is a brief respite where he appears to gain some humility, but by the end of the film, he’s still the same reckless S-O-B he was at the beginning.

But who cares about what happens on the ground when we can watch high-class dogfighting in the air, right? Top Gun follows a distinct air-land-air-land-air formula, with the jet scenes full of exhilarating high-octane action. The combative flying is intense and often disorienting, but damn if Tony Scott doesn’t make it look good. It’s no wonder the Air Force enlistment rate went way up after this film’s release — Top Gun makes being a navy pilot look like the best thing in the world.

Top Gun [1986]

What’s most amusing when watching the film today is the clear gay subtext between the pilots. When Maverick and Iceman first meet in class, they can’t stop looking at each other. There is some serious sexual tension right there, moreso than that between Maverick and Charlie. The film overall is dripping in machismo and homoeroticism. There are several lines about “hard-ons” and “johnsons”, constant moments where the men are shirtless and/or in their underwear (while making it a point to talk very closely to each other), and of course, there’s the infamous volleyball scene. When you sit down and look out for these moments, the film gains an all-new perspective. I think Tarantino was onto something here.

And who could forget the classic soundtrack? I had to keep a running tally of which song was played more — “Danger Zone” or “Take My Breath Away“? The latter won, four times to three, though it is “Danger Zone” that is still stuck in my head to this day. These songs still resonate today, as evidenced by the crowd going nuts when producer Giorgio Moroder played both hits at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival.

With the adrenaline-pumping action scenes and Tom Cruise’s otherworldly charisma, it’s not hard to see why so many people flocked to the box office back in ’86. In many ways, Top Gun feels like the definitive ’80s popcorn flick — it’s not a very good movie, but it can be pretty damn entertaining.

6/10

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Movie Project #25: Sideways [2004]

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.

Sideways [2004]

Sideways [2004] 
Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Alexander Payne & Jim Tyler (screenplay), Rex Pickett (novel)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
Running Time: 126 minutes

I’m not much of a wine drinker, so I never really had a burning desire to see Sideways, which I always thought of as “that wine movie.” Foolish me — I should know better than to doubt Alexander Payne. This is an intelligently-written and surprisingly funny film that works on multiple levels.

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Movie Project #10: Out of Sight [1998]

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.

Out of Sight [1998]

Out of Sight [1998]
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Elmore Leonard (novel), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Romance
Starring: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle
Running Time: 123 minutes

Out of Sight has a little bit of something for everyone: comedy, romance, crime, random outbursts of violence… The film is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, and it is backed by an absolute star-studded cast. It also happens to be one of my early favorites in this year’s movie project.

George Clooney stars as the charismatic bank robber, Jack Foley. After escaping from prison, Foley immediately (and unexpectedly) stumbles upon U.S. Marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), waiting outside for an unrelated reason. This mix-up leads to both Foley and Sisco getting thrown into the trunk of a getaway car driven by Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames). Right away, despite being on different sides of the law, there’s an instant spark between them. They know it, we know it, everyone knows it. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

Their trunk encounter is brief, but it sets the stage for a pleasurable game of cat-and-mouse for both sides. Sisco is able to escape when she persuades an accomplice of Foley and Bragg, a perpetual stoner named Glenn Michaels (Steve Zahn), to leave them stranded. Foley then goes on the run, with Sisco always remaining not too far behind.

Out of Sight [1998]

Foley’s end goal is to score one last big heist and then retire to a tropical island somewhere (where have I heard that before?). His target is a financial criminal (Albert Brooks) who, while in prison, had foolishly mentioned how he had millions of dollars in uncut diamonds back at his home in Detroit. Foley and Bragg make the long trek up to snowy Michigan to scope out the situation and see if they can pull this off once and for all.

Of course, everything doesn’t go as planned. Glenn’s big mouth leads to even more people wanting to get in on the action, including an explosively violent ex-boxer named Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle). Soon this seemingly simple burglary turns into a far more complex operation than initially anticipated.

Out of Sight [1998]

The plot is labyrinth-like with its nonlinear narrative, and director Steven Soderbergh expertly weaves his way through the many layers that are always in motion. There is never a dull moment, especially when Clooney is given time to show off his trademark charisma. According to Clooney, this is the kind of role he had always dreamed of: a bad guy who you couldn’t help but root for in the end. He makes his mark in the very first scene, as he pulls off the most nonchalant bank robbery I have ever seen. It can be argued that this performance is what made Clooney a bona fide movie star. Much of the film relies on his chemistry with Jennifer Lopez, and it really is something to behold. This is one of Lopez’s finest performances, as she is effortlessly equal parts sexy and badass.

Although the focus is on the two leads, every character has their chance to shine. I was most impressed with Don Cheadle, whose character grows to become more and more frightening as the film progresses. His two partners in crime, played by Isaiah Washington and Keith Loneker, are memorable themselves. The latter is involved in one of the most unexpected and absurd on-screen deaths I have ever seen.

Out of Sight had me cracking up often, and that was something I did not expect. The humor is very dark (case in point: the aforementioned unforeseen death), but the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads provides a bit of a balance by being fairly light. In the end, this is still a love story more than anything else, but its unconventional format and impeccable performances make the film stand out from the rest.

9/10

Movie Project #3: Say Anything… [1989]

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.

Say Anything... [1989]

Say Anything… [1989]
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Lili Taylor
Running Time: 100 minutes

Is there a more iconic image of 1980s teenage romance than a young John Cusack standing outside of his ex-girlfriend’s window while holding a boombox over his head? Going into Say Anything…, that scene was pretty much all I knew about the film. It was a bit of a surprise then that this scene was so short. I sat there waiting for this magical moment, and then… she didn’t even look out the window! That’s cold, man. Cold.

John Cusack is Lloyd Dobler, a recent high school grad who is all about punk rock and kickboxing. On graduation day, he gets a wild idea: he decides to ask out Diane Court (Iona Skye), the smartest girl in school. His friends, a group of girls including Corey Flood (Lili Taylor), scoff at his idea, but he’s a man on a mission. He works up the courage to make a phone call and gets her dad, James (John Mahoney), instead. They have an awkward conversation (it ends with Lloyd saying “Good afternoon” in response to the dad’s “Good luck”), but it proves to be fruitful as she calls him back the next day. Much to Lloyd’s (and everyone else’s) surprise, she accepts his invitation to a party later that night.

Say Anything... [1989]

The two of them hit it off immediately and fall into a heated romance. However, there are two obstacles in the way of their relationship: 1) her overprotective father, and 2) Diane is moving to England after the summer. Her father means well — he has even taken certain illegal risks to make sure she can be as successful as possible — but he immediately looks down at the “basic” Lloyd. It’s a matter of two completely different social classes coming together due to an undeniable connection, but it’s a relationship that is difficult to sustain.

What impressed me about this conventional tale is that Lloyd is genuinely a great guy. Sure, he may not be sure what he wants to do with his life, but he knows how to treat a girl. Diane realizes this, too, but it’s her that has to do some growing here. It’s rare that a guy in romantic comedies comes across so well, so it’s refreshing to see things from this perspective.

Say Anything… [1989]

For this being a Cameron Crowe film, I was a little surprised to see music take a bit of a backseat here. There’s the seminal boombox scene in which Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is the main focus, but other than that, the soundtrack is rather subtle. This is not a fault at all, just a bit unexpected.

There is a bit of melodrama near the end that feels caked on, but for the most part, Say Anything… hits all the right notes. It also certainly says something that such a small scene in the film has made an incredible lasting impression over the years.

8/10

Movie Review: Her [2013]

Her [2013]

Her [2013]
Director: Spike Jonze
Writers: Spike Jonze
Genre: Drama/Romance/Sci-Fi
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde
Running Time: 126 minutes

In a world where a man can marry a video game character, is it really all that far-fetched that someone could fall in love with a computer operating system? That’s exactly what happens to Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) in Spike Jonze’s new film, Her.

Feeling more alone than ever after an unwanted separation from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore purchases a brand new operating system with advanced artificial intelligence. The OS has its own unique female identity named “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Samantha’s witty demeanor and intellectual philosophies intrigue Theodore, and the two of them quickly form a friendship. For the first time in months, he feels invigorated and ready to crawl out of his self-induced shell. Perhaps this broadening of his horizons is what pushes Theodore to seek out more than a friendship.

Her [2013]

On paper, this sort of relationship is odd and offputting. Yet in the world of Her, it’s not all that absurd. When Theodore announces his new girlfriend to his friend and neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams), she doesn’t flinch. After all, people are constantly talking on their smartphones in their own little worlds (though in Her, small earbuds have replaced phones).

While Theodore is walking through the futuristic Los Angeles, we are constantly shown dozens of people at a time, all of whom are talking at once — but never to each other. This is clearly a form of satire from Jonze, and it’s a bit sad just how much it hits home in today’s day and age. We have never been able to be so close to others yet remain so far apart. Quite honestly, I suspect we’re not too far off from having advanced AI like Samantha.

Her [2013]

And what a character she is! Brought fully to life with some truly impressive voice acting from Johansson, Samantha has quite the personality. It’s easy to see why a lonely soul like Theodore could grow so smitten with her. She’s funny, intelligent, open-minded and caring; basically, she’s the whole package, just not in physical form. Even Theodore’s friends grow attached to her; at one point, the two of them do a “double date” with another couple, and it never feels awkward at all.

There’s a lot to like in Her, from the performances (especially that of Phoenix, who honestly deserved an Oscar nod) to the wonderful score by Arcade Fire. My only beef comes from the ending. It was a bit too abrupt and nonchalant for my liking, though admittedly the final shot is a beautiful one. With so many ideas in place, it’s possible that everyone will pull something different from Her. Technology, relationships, compassion, humanity… can an operating system really take the place of a human? Is that sustainable? All I know is that given the time, we as humans will keep trying to find ways to make it so.

8/10

Movie Project #50: Gone with the Wind [1939]

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.

Gone with the Wind [1939]

Gone with the Wind [1939]
Director: Victor Fleming, George Cukor (uncredited), Sam Wood (uncredited)
Writers: Margaret Mitchell (novel), Sidney Howard (screen play)
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Romance/War
Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Thomas Mitchell, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland
Running Time: 238 minutes

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I saved Gone with the Wind for the very end of this project. The idea of sitting through a nearly four hour historical romance epic is incredibly daunting, no matter the accolades of the film. What more can be said about this 1939 feature anyway? It’s still the highest grossing film of all time (when adjusted for inflation), it won ten Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) and it has one of the most quoted movie lines ever. Yet even with all of these honors, perhaps the best thing I can say about the film is that it really does not feel like it’s four hours long.

Split into two distinct parts, Gone with the Wind is set in the Old South right in the midst of the Civil War. At first glance, life is grand for the white folk. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a true southern belle, soaking up the adoration of all the local men. She lives on a massive cotton plantation in Georgia called Tara, and she has everything she wants — except for one thing, the man she is in love with. This man, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), does not share this same love, and he is more than happy to marry his cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), who just so happens to be Scarlett’s best friend. As you could imagine, there is a ton of melodrama at play, as Miss O’Hara does everything in her power to make Ashley fall in love with her, or at least find ways to get back at him.

Gone with the Wind [1939]

A wrench is thrown into her plans when a local drifter named Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) meets her at a party. Butler, already disowned by his family, raises the ire of the other guests when he announces that the South has no chance against the superior numbers of the North. Nonetheless, his antics catch the attention of O’Hara. She plays “hard to get” with him, yet he keeps finding ways to run into her.

As the war grows more intense, the South receives heavy damage. The “good ol’ south” becomes a fragment of the past, forcing those who were once well off (like Scarlett) to get in and do some manual labor themselves. Eventually, through much persistence, Rhett and Scarlett do get together, and the second part of the film focuses on their relationship.

It’s quite the sprawling, epic story, and it takes place over decades. The tumultuous marriage of Rhett and Scarlett is shown in great detail, and there are also glimpses at the lives of those around them, including Ashley and Melanie. Yet throughout all of this, Scarlett O’Hara remains the focal point, for better or for worse.

I say “for worse” because quite frankly Scarlett is one of the most despicable women in the history of film. She is a spoiled, arrogant brat who puts herself above everyone else. She manipulates everyone around her, even engaging in multiple sham marriages just to improve her personal wealth or get back at others. Four hours of her greed and selfishness just grows to become too much. However, by the end of the film, when Clark Gable mutters that immortal line of “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, it is one of the most satisfying payoffs I have seen.

Gone with the Wind [1939]

I can only imagine how revolutionary Gone with the Wind was during its heyday. It’s still an impressive piece of filmmaking today, but some of its faults are more noticeable now. Namely, the glorification of the South is often ridiculous. The northerners are depicted as brutes who slaughter innocent townspeople and try to rape women, whereas most of the southerners are portrayed as perfect gentlemen. Many of the African Americans shown in the film come across as dumb and perfectly content to be slaves. These depictions are farcical, and they are especially inappropriate today.

Still, historical inaccuracies and all, Gone with the Wind remains an inspired classic that somehow manages to never get boring. I am glad that I finally watched it, though I have to admit I have little desire to sit through it again.

8/10

 
And with that, this year’s movie project is complete! Stay tuned within the coming days for a wrap-up of all 50 films, including a ranking of my personal favorites.

Movie Project #44: Barry Lyndon [1975]

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.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

Barry Lyndon [1975]
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick (written for the screen by), William Makepeace Thackeray (novel)
Country: UK
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Romance
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Krüger, Leon Vitali
Running Time: 184 minutes

Barry Lyndon has always seemed like an outlier in Stanley Kubrick’s filmography. When most discuss his work, they bring up The Shining, A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey (among others), but his 1975 epic period piece is often neglected. Despite my deep love for the director’s work, both the length of the film and its 19th century setting have pushed me away from watching it. Yet I should have never doubted Kubrick — this is a masterful piece of filmmaking.

The film tells the story of Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), a fictional 18th century Irish peasant who somehow weasels his way into British aristocracy. His tale is fairly inconsequential and he’s not much of a likable fellow, but it is told in such a way that it’s hard not to remain engrossed.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

Barry’s childhood is shaped by the death of his father, who was killed in a duel. As a teenager, he falls in love with his older cousin, Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton). Barry becomes enraged when she ditches him for the wealthy English captain, John Quin (Leonard Rossiter). The two men decide to settle their dispute in — what else? — a duel. Barry wins this battle, but is forced to flee as a result.

While on the run, Barry’s life begins to shift rapidly. He is robbed by the notorious highwayman, Captain Feeney (Arthur O’Sullivan), sending him deeper into poverty. This prompts Barry to join the British army, who are in the midst of the Seven Years’ War. It is here where his less-than-moral traits begin to surface. He deserts the army, gets caught by the Germans, enlists in the Prussian army, begins cheating at card games, and once again flees from his military position.

And that’s merely the first act.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

The film’s second act follows Barry’s life as he manages to marry a well-off widow, the Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berensen). He takes her last name (now Barry Lyndon) and settles into an aristocratic role that he hardly deserves. There is no passion in their marriage, and they seem to only stay together for their young son (and Barry’s love of money). Lady Lyndon’s son from her past marriage, Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), hates his stepfather, prompting many confrontations between the two. In his later years, Barry’s life begins crumbling with multiple tragedies and a rapidly increasing debt, and we watch his eventual demise.

There is a lot to digest in this film, but its slow pacing makes it easy to take all of this in. Some may consider its deliberateness to be dull or boring, but there was never a time I wasn’t engaged. This is an extraordinarily beautiful piece of filmmaking, with immaculate design and elaborate setpieces. Three of the film’s four Oscar awards were even due to its visual prowess (Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design). Its soundtrack, a blend of Irish folk and classical music, is absolutely perfect for the film’s setting, and it nabbed a fourth Oscar for Best Musical Score.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

Ryan O’Neal is an interesting selection for the male lead, but his narcissistic portrayal of Barry is spot on. As I mentioned before, this is not a very likable character, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to his story, even if I also happened to be incredibly detached. To be fair, Lyndon is hardly the only selfish character in the film — nearly everyone has their negative traits on display for all to see. The supporting cast, mostly made up of character actors, is fantastic, with Leon Vitali’s emotional performance as Lord Bullington being a major highlight.

Yet with all of this praise, Barry Lyndon remains a tricky film to recommend. On one hand, it is a technical marvel that is absolutely gorgeous. On the other, it is a very slow period piece about a number of detestable people. For me, the sheer beauty of the film made the three hour runtime decidely worth it, but it’s not one I will go to as often as some of Kubrick’s other work.

8/10

Movie Project #41: Rebel Without a Cause [1955]

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.

Rebel Without a Cause [1955]

Rebel Without a Cause [1955]
Director: Nicholas Ray
Writers: Stewart Stern (screen play), Irving Shulman (adaptation by), Nicholas Ray (from a story by)
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen
Running Time: 111 minutes

When Rebel Without a Cause is discussed today, the first thing to be brought up is always James Dean. And why wouldn’t he be? We have heard all about his tragic death at age 24 shortly before the film was released, and his performance as a troubled youth cemented his legacy. On top of that, Rebel Without a Cause is considered a landmark film, one that captured the voice of a new, young generation in the 1950s. Its cultural importance cannot be denied; unfortunately, it has not aged all that well.

James Dean plays 17-year-old Jim Stark, a high school delinquent who is “torn apart” by his submissive father (the wonderful Jim Backus) and his demanding mother (Ann Doran). After enrolling in a new school, Stark does his best to fit in, but ends up angering a local bully named Buzz (Corey Allen). This thug, accompanied by his goon friends (one of whom is a very young Dennis Hopper), challenges Jim to a knife fight. This doesn’t end well, so Buzz proposes a game of “chickie run” — the two of them will meet up on top of a hill and race stolen cars to the edge of a cliff. The first person to jump out of their car before it flies off the cliff is the “chicken.” It’s an incredibly reckless game, yes, and it’s made all the more meaningless when Buzz remarks to Jim beforehand, “You know something? I like you.” Jim questions why they need to do this then, to which Buzz replies, “You’ve gotta do something. Don’t you?”

Rebel Without a Cause [1955]

When Jim isn’t dealing with testosterone-fueled hooligans, he is hanging out with his only two friends, fellow schoolmates Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo). Later in the film, while on the run from the bullies, the three of them seek refuge in an abandoned mansion. In a bizarre sequence, Jim and Judy act as part of a fantasy family, playing father and mother to the embattled Plato. The three of them share a common bond through teenage angst and broken families, but the whole scenario just feels awkward. Two 17 year olds pretending they are the parents of a 15 year old? It doesn’t help that Plato appears to have feelings for Jim, though given the Hays Code at the time, this is only subtly hinted at.

There are several memorable moments in the film, such as Jim’s classic “You’re tearing me apart!” line as well as the aforementioned “chickie run”, but many of the plot developments feel far-fetched. After the horrifying death of a classmate, everyone goes on with their lives as if nothing ever happened. Jim and Judy even fall in love almost immediately after this tragedy, despite the fact that the student who was killed was her very own boyfriend. It all becomes too much, and it’s hard to take any of the film seriously.

Rebel Without a Cause [1955]

Don’t get me wrong, the film is still entertaining, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have been as significant if James Dean didn’t die so young. Dean does deliver a strong performance here, commanding the screen every time he appears, though it does take some time to get used to the idea of him being a teenager (he looks every bit of 24). His character is unforgettable with his bright red jacket, blue jeans and his uncombed hair, and as such he is entrenched in American lore. Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo are quite good as his high school counterparts, but I was particularly impressed with Jim Backus as Stark’s father. The scene with him, in a frilly apron, on his knees cleaning up a mess on the floor before his wife finds out is just heartbreaking. The poor guy is so emasculated in a film overflowing with masculinity.

I can only imagine how groundbreaking Rebel Without a Cause was back in its day, and as such, it remains a worthwhile watch. I would hesitate to call this a *great* film, but it is an important one, and sometimes that’s all that is needed.

7/10

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 #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