Friday, February 24, 2012

Ace In The Hole (1951)

Ace In The Hole (1951) ★★★★★ 5/5

Long before James Franco found himself trapped under the rocks in 127 Hours, Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) found himself in the same sort of predicament. Trapped in the rocks of Escadera, New Mexico while trying to steal ancient Indian artifacts. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a newspaper reporter who has basically been banned from the industry for his nonprofessional behavior and lack of ethics in reporting. Tatum finds himself the first on the scene of Minosa's situation and sees nothing but opportunity.

Tatum recalls the real life story of W. Floyd Collins, who suffered a similar fate in the 1920's. He goes to see Minosa trapped in the rocks and when he hears Minosa talk about how he was afraid he became trapped as the result of an Indian curse, Tatum likens it to the story of the curse of King Tut's tomb. Immediately he puts himself to work to get the story. However, he doesn't just get the story, he dictates it and wants Minosa to be trapped for as long as possible so he can write.

Minosa has a wife (Jan Sterling) who was ready to leave him. The couple run a small cafe in the middle of nowhere. She despises her life and with her husband being trapped, she knows she can leave. Tatum manipulates her way of thinking. As a family drives up to ask where the trapped man was they read about, Tatum shows Mrs. Minosa the paper and how he had written about how she was a wife in distress over her husband being trapped. He went on to explain that the people would be coming in droves and from it, the cafe would prosper. Indeed it did, and like Tatum, she too saw the benefit of dragging the story on.

Tatum works his angle to get in good with the sheriff (Ray Teal) to ensure that he is the only one with full access to the scene, thereby blocking out all other reporters. Likewise, he works his magic with the doctor and the rescue crew. He ends up in complete control of the situation and completely fabricates what could have been a simple rescue into "The Big Carnival," which was the original title of the film.

Jacob Q. Boot (Porter Hall) runs the small newspaper that Tatum works for and sees through Tatum's story. Boot is in opposition of the sheriff's politics and condemns Tatum for what he has been doing. In reaction, he quits on the spot and decides to make his fortune telling his story to the larger papers throughout the country. Mrs. Minosa also has expectations about making her fortune and moving to New York . . . in hopes of being with Tatum.

The ending rather intense. Yet knowing what the movie was saying as it progressed, it was not necessarily an unexpected ending. Alcohol and the weight of the situation the Tatum created ultimately become his own demise.

Media's portrayal of news is scrutinized very well in this film without belittling the industry. Two sides are given, the side of the professional, upstanding newsman (Boot), and the unscrupulous newsman more concern about money and fame then integrity. It draws a clear picture of how the media can manipulate an event to it's advantage in order to sell papers. Tatum saw a story and steered it in a direction that would benefit him. With his twist and writing, he drew interest so great that the location became a fairground, songs were written with Leo's rescue as the topic, trains rolled through and the entire country rallied around a man who was not a victim of the rocks, but a victim of the media using him to his advantage.

This film is still just as relevant today as it was when it was released. Paparazzi and entertainment shows like TMZ easily target people and situations and present them in a less then becoming matter to make money. This film really makes you stop and rethink what is being reported and how a story could be manipulated, jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of the people being covered.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Marty (1955)

Marty (1955) ★★★★★ 4/5

Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) is a butch in New York. At work, his customers tell him he should be married, after all, he is 34 years old. All his brothers and sisters are married. At home, his Mother tells him he should be married. Friends want him to find a girl. Everyone around him pushes him into romance at every opportunity they get. Marty is a warm hearted guy with a charming personality. He's not the best looking guy, and he is critical of himself.

Clara (Betsy Blair) is a 29 year old school teacher. She is kind and polite. Like Marty, she does not have high self esteem and doesn't think love will find her. She too lives with her parents, and uses it to her advantage claiming her parents couldn't do without her help at home.

The two meet at the Stardust ballroom after Clara's date has left with another girl. Marty sees her crying and befriends her. That night, the two spend hours at a diner talking and getting to know each other. The get along perfectly and are attracted to each other. Marty takes her home and the two share a kiss before his Mother arrives and briefly meets Clara. Being late at night, Clara is then escorted home by Marty when they run into a friend of Marty's who he had actually lost track of earlier in the night at the Ballroom. He tries to get Marty to hang out with him, but Marty insists on taking Clara home. When he finally does, he promises to call her the next day.

Morning comes with Marty singing and happy. However everyone around him who had encouraged him to find love now protests his new interest. His Mother excalims she didn't like the girl and forbids him to see her again. Her main reason is because the girl is not Italian. This change of pace came from a conversation Marty's Mother had with her Sister in which her Sister warned that if Marty ever finds love he will try moving her out of her house and into an apartment. Moments later, Marty's cousin is in a bitter fight with his wife. He warns Marty about the problems that come with a wife and begs him to stay a bachelor. After church, Marty meets his friend who had briefly met Clara. Again Marty finds himself being talked out of his interest in Clara. His friend speaks about how ugly she is and makes Marty not want to see her. He declines calling her.

Later that night, Marty is spending times with his friends who bicker about what they want to do that night. Clara is at home watching Ed Sullivan with her parents, and clearly heartbroken. Marty himself is feeling bitter about spending another noght doing nothing when he knows he found someone he loves. Love wins and Marty calls Clara.

The film moved along nicely. It was also nice watching a film where the lead characters were more typical of everyday people instead of Hollywood icons. The dynamics and the shift in how Marty was made to feel by those in his environment was well played. While the attitudes of those around him shifted quickly in the film, it was well crafted and made sense. The development of each character and why they changed their initial viewpoint was well scripted and believable. My only issue with the film was the ending was far to abrupt. Sure, we knew what happened and it was no mystery, but I think it left for the viewer wanting to see Marty and Clara actually reunite. But, just as the film did not star mainstream idols, it did not feature a traditional Hollywood ending. Perhaps this helped the film achieve it's success as it was more releastic then it was movie like.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Bicycle Thief (1948)

The Bicycle Thief (1948) ★★★★★ 5/5

Following World War II, Rome suffers greatly and poverty affects the population. Men gather in the morning to hear if they are selected to work. Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) is chosen for a job to hang movie posters throughout the city so long as he has a bike. Accepting the job, he rushes home to his wife (Lianella Carell) and tells her of the news. Yet there is a problem, he doesn't actually own his bike. He had pawned it off for food. In order to get the bike back, his wife pawns their linens. It seems to be a good exchange as the income Ricci will bring in with his new job will greatly make up for it.

While working one day, hanging up a poster of Rita Hayworth, his bike is stolen. Panic striken he tries to chase the thief down with no avial. Devastated, not by losing his bike, but at the realization he has no way of bringing in any income and supporting his family, he retreats home where he meets his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola ) and the hunt for the bike begins.

Rizzo, with help from his son, spend the following day looking for the bike. They see it at one point and track down the man riding it. A policeman is summoned to search the home of the accussed while an angry mob threatens Ricci for his claims. Ricci leaves, lost and bewildered at the thought of not having his bike. Eventually he is driven to theft himself and unsuccessfully attempts to steal someone else's bike.

Lianella Carell has a natural beauty to her which makes her moments on the screen joyous and life like. While the family suffers extreme poverty, there is no denying the relationship between her character and Ricci comes off as very real, and very loving. Enzo Staiola as Bruno steals every scene he is in. In fact, the movie subtly shifts it's focus on the bike and infuses the relationship between Bruno and Ricci into your subconcious. There are a lot of issues at hand in this film and one of the strongest is that between Father and Son. In one day, the two experience several emotions. One of the most touching scenes is when the two splurge at a fancy resturant and Ricci tries to explain what finding the bike and keeping his job will mean. Bruno knows the hardships they face. Bruno's frugality in this scene is tender. Ricci hits Bruno at one point out of frustration and magically we feel the same frustration as the two characters. one being frustration and the other a betrayal of sorts. Ricci hears news that a boy is drowning in the river and our hearts sink as he runs to the victim with Bruno being nowhere in site. In the finale, when Bruno sees his Father caught with a stolen bike, it arouses so many thoughts. Ricci, without saying a word, tells us of his humiliation and his shame for letting down his son. Bruno compliments the scene by showing us the pride and love he has for his Father. It is beautiful, emotional and magical.

This is a simple film about a man trying to get his bike back. But the underlying themes of the film make it one of the most complex films when analyzed. The relationship between a Father and son as Bruno and Ricci bond. Employment issues and the fact that to make money, you need money. Without a bike, Ricci has no way to make money, and he can't get a bike without money. Rich vs poor. This is clearly an underlying theme as Bruno and Ricci dine in a resturant as a wealthy family eats at a nearby table. It also comes into play in the irony of Ricci hanging up glamorous posters of Rita Hayworth throughout the deteriorating city of Rome.

The film is a beautiful one and evokes much emotion, particularily in the scenes involving Ricci and Bruno. It is much more then the story of a stolen bike. It is the story of a bond between a Father and Son and the unconditional love, respect and admiration the have for one another.

Splendor In The Grass (1961)

Splendor In The Grass (1961) ★★★★★ 5/5

Amazing movie. This is one of the best movies I have ever seen without any question and has placed Natalie Wood on a whole new level for me. Wood plays Deanie Loomis, an all American girl in 1928 who is living the perfect life. Her family is middle class, but optimistic about stocks they have. Although they are not wealthy, they are happy and living above their means. Deanie is successful in school and well liked. She is pretty, popular and dating the star football player, Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty). He is athletic, has perfect looks, and comes from a wealthy family. The two share a typical teenage romance. They enjoy their time together and their romance is innocent. Both of their parents warn of issues that may arise if the romance goes to far, referring specifically to sex.

Bud begins to have stronger desires the more the two are together. He becomes confused and grows annoyed their relationship hasn't progressed beyond simple kissing and holding. Essentially, he wants sex. Likewise, Deanie questions her own sexual needs and tries to determine herself how to maintain her chastity. Bud has a sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), who confuses his perception on sex completely as she does not hold back at all in her relationships, which are primarily based on sex. At one point, she nearly becomes raped as a group watches. From this, Bud realizes he can't keep seeing Deanie because he may not be able to resist his sexual urges. His Father (Pat Hingle) explains that he needs to find a different kind of girl to meet those needs. Bud does just that with Juanita Howard (Jan Norris).

Upon finding out what Bud has done, Deanie become depressed, nearly suicidal and throws herself at Bud. Knowing the difference between a good girl and a bad, he turns her down. Finally, she breaks down physically and emotionally. Her parents (Audrey Christie & Fred Stewart) send her to a psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile, Bud, still in love with Deanie and still knowing she is the right girl for him, becomes careless with his own life and loses sight of his goals. Deanie is institutionalized, yet he still loves her. Because of poor performance in college, his Father visits and tries to convince him that he can take any girl he wants and that Deanie is replaceable.

Years pass and Deanie comes home. Although time has passed, her love for Bud has not. While her Mother protests her seeing him, her father tells her where he can find Bud, at his Father's ranch. Deanie visits Bud, meets his wife, and realizes that although she loves him still, she might possibly love that the relationship is nothing more then a fond memory. The finale leaves for several interpretations, which add to the beauty of the film.

Natalie Wood's performance in this film rivals that of all her other work. Transforming from a perfectly lovable girl next door to an emotionally unstable wreck, there is never a moment of doubt as to what her character is going through. The character development is well played and highly believable. She is surrounded by a cast that plays to every aspect of the film. It is the surrounding characters who help define what Deanie and Bud believe in. Just as they impact Deanie and Bud, everything Deanie says and does impacts every other character. Whether it is the teacher, kids in the hall, Juanita, the doctors or Bud. Rarely does a film intertwine the characters so perfectly no matter how large or small their role is.

The use of the camera compliments everything about the film too. Complex scenes are easily adapted to the screen. Among those are the scene where Deanie reads a poem aloud in class as Juanita listens, Ginny's drunken antics as she wanders from the ballroom to the parking lot and Deanie's walk to the falls. Color is placed to focus attention on key elements in various scenes.

From a story perspective, it is so very complex and absolutely deserving of the Academy Award it won for the screenplay. When broken down, the topic of teenage sex has consequences regardless as to whether it happens or not. The pressure to avoid human instincts and urges can be maddening and cause mental and social suffering. At the same time, the act itself can cause just as much turmoil from pregnancy to negative labels. Decades later the double edge sword still exists where the perception a man can ensure his sexual needs are met if they are met by a girl to serve that need. Yet, a young woman who desires to have her needs met is ridiculed and scorned. Deanie and Bud were truly in love with each other and intended to marry. They both had urges and were directed away from them. This prompted the decline in both of their lives. Bud took the advice of his father and his sexual needs were met, but they were met at the expense of his relationship with Deanie. He loved her, but was convinced that because she was good he should not have sex with her. Deanie was not allowed to have her needs met and the betrayal of her true love drove her insane. It's a very complex storyline and the actions taken to cause and prevent what happened to the central characters could be debated on many levels.

The final scene is amazing. Here are two people who were completely in love and planning on spending their lives together. After time has passed, they are nearly strangers, yet you can see there are still feelings. Neither seem to be truly happy with the outcome and have merely accepted life as it now is, realizing that what they had left behind them in time was quite possibly the finest moments of their lives. you can almost see that while they are not happy, they question whether or not happiness would have lasted and carried on through their relationship had they stayed together. It's a tender moment. Sad, yet at the same time freeing.

Literally everything about this film is amazing. Without a doubt this ranks as one of Natalie Wood's finest performances in a career that has no real low points.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Natural (1984)

The Natural (1984) ★ 1/5

Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a 19 year old baseball player who wows everyone around him with his skills. Max Mercy (Robert Duvall) immediately sees that this boy is going to be a star. Because he is so good, he is put up against the major leagues greatest player in a hitting contest and wins. Before he can go any further in the league, he is seduced and shot by a woman (Barbara Hershey) who preys on rising athletes. She falls out the window and dies as the gun goes off. Because of the injury Hobbs sustains, he can not play.

16 years later he tries to make a comeback in the league. With him is the bat he made from a tree that killed his Father. Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) takes him on his team to his disliking. To the suprise of Pop, Hobbs is still at the top of his game. Reporters try to exploit his past and suggest that he murdered the woman who hat shot him. Others try to claim his bat is loaded. A Judge (Robert Prosky) wants him to throw a game for money. A woman, Memo (Kim Basinger), is sent in to distract Hobbs from playing well, and the plan works as he falls in love with her and his game suffers. During the height of his slump, he sees a woman in the stands who turns out to be his childhood sweetheart Iris (Glenn Close). Feelings are ignited and Hobbs starts to play well until Memo poisons him. Lying in the hospital, the doctor tells him he shouldn't play anymore. Iris visits and he confesses his love for baseball.

Eventually Hobbs is well enough to play. During the game, Iris has a note sent to him and reveals that her son is actually his son as well. Lo and behold, Hobbs has a boy, and unexpectedly it is with the woman he loves, almost as much as baseball. When Hobbs learns of his son's existence, all the powers of the universe seem to come together. Lightning flashes and the bat that symbolizes his Father breaks. With a new bat, new energy and a new son, he hits the ball into the lights. Oddly, from hitting one light, every light in the park explodes on him and he rounds the bases followed by the sparks, falling like magical fairy dust.

In the end, we see Father and son playing catch in a field with iris watching from the distance.

What a ridiculous movie. First of all, Redford looks the exact same at age 19 and age 35. There was no effort to make him look any different from one period of time to the other. The whole story was so far fetched. A woman who gets her kicks shooting up and coming athletes? Seriously? I couldn't get into the whole plot about Memo wanting to seduce then poison him. Constant murder attempts on one athlete throughout his career . . . which by the way was essentially a sappy "I love baseball more then life" or "I can't live without baseball or I'll die" story line. Through the whole movie my attitude was very "who cares?" This film has an incredible cast, but with such a weak, random storyline, they have nothing spectacular to show off their skills.

The Natural is nothing more then an over dramatic, far fetched fairy tale written to make a boring topic like baseball seem like a romanticized, mysterious underworld/soap opera. The only good thing about seeing this movie is that I never have to watch it again. By the time the end came I didn't even care if he won or lost, I just wanted it to be over. There were several moments where I hoped it would just come to one of those random endings where the film just stops and it's left up to the imagination of the viewer as to what happens. But when Hobbs blew out the lights and rounded the bases in slow motion, I knew that the scene would last far too long. They just had to put it in slow motion, didn't they?

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) ★★★★★ 5/5

Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) packs her bags and prepares to leave. Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) arrives home late from work to find Joanna leave. It is an abrupt ending to their marriage and we don't know what spurred it. The breakup is swift and fairly calmly played out. Ted figures Joanna will be back within a few days. Joanna does not come back. This scenario is an easy enough plot, but it becomes complicated as they have a son, Billy (Justin Henry).

Ted is a marketing man with a high paced, exhausting job. Yet, he has to completely turn his life around to learn how to incorporate Billy into his life. Previously, Joanna had done all the child rearing. Ted now has to learn to cook and shop, maintain a family schedule, balance play time and work time, and teach his young son how to develop.

Just as his life is in complete sync, and Billy has adjusted to having only a Father, Joanna reappears. Her appearance, well over a year after she had left, comes with news that she wants her son back. Court proceedings take place and a custody battle ensues. It literally becomes Kramer vs Kramer in a tear jerking drama as lawyers cut deep to twist the facts in an effort to make each look unfit as a parent.

With no question whatsoever, Justin Henry may quite possibly have put on the best performance by any child on the big screen. He is emotional and on cue with every motion and line delivered. At times defiant, at times joyful, his presence completely steals the scene. There are times where it is hard to determine if the film is about Billy's adjustment to life without a Mother, or if it is a film about the estranged relationship between his parents. Meryl Streep is always consistent and has the chops to make you believe anything she does. Her emotional instability is relayed just from her facial expressions alone. The isolation and torment that she has brought on upon herself as Joanna puts her in a unique position. While she is the Mother, and the love for her child is clearly strong, her psychological demons, which are mostly kept from the viewer, make her unlikable in many ways. This film is probably one of Dustin Hoffman's finest. he is lovable as a Dad thrown into a new lifestyle. As a viewer, you feel for him. You feel love, pity, sympathy, joy, sadness and so on.

While entertaining, the film is also highly socially relevant. More often then not, it has been the Father associated with packing up and leaving the family. Kramer vs. Kramer flips that stereotype around and puts the Father in the place of where we traditionally see the abandoned Mother. It's quite progressive in nature as far as delivering a social message to viewers other then what we are accustomed to seeing. I felt that in this movie, Ted was clearly the stronger parent. In a sensible world, custody would have been given to him with no question. In this film, custody in the end is awarded to the Mother who had left. Sadly, this would be the case in the real world despite the fact the Father was there and the Mother was clearly unfit. Kramer vs. Kramer basically is saying that our society and courts are quick to abandon Father's rights regardless of whether the Mother is fit as a parent or not. It's a sad realization and prompted a change in thinking, which sadly has not seemed to have occurred.

On a production side note I have to add I was disgusted to see this film was nominated for an Academy Award in editing. This movie had one of the most noticable editing flaws I have ever seen in a movie. In one scene, Ted is walking with Margaret (Jane Alexander) in a blizzard. The following scene, Ted enters a small bar to meet with his lawyer to get the verdict results. He walks in with his winter coat, yet in the back ground the trees reveal they are in full foilage. The sky is clear and a light wind blows the leaves. At first thought, it would seem time has passed and the case dragged on into summer. This thought is quickly put to rest when the following scene again takes place in the midst of winter. Very disappointing. I should almost knock it down a star for that!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On The Waterfront (1954)

On The Waterfront (1954) ★★★★★ 5/5

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) emerges from the dark and calls to a window for his friend Joey, telling him to go to the roof to get a pigeon of his that had escaped his coop. Joey goes to the roof and as Terry walks away, Joey is thrown from the roof top and killed. Father Barry (Karl Malden) becomes involved as he realizes that there is more going on then meets the eye at the docks. The dock workers are being treated unfairly. Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) controls the docks and who is paid what and when. If a worker complains, he ends up like Joey.

Terry feels bad about setting his friend up to be murdered, but at the same time he is conflicted to remain under the good graces of Friendly. Terry becomes more conflicted as he develops a relationship with Joey's sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint). Eventually he realizes he has to stand up for himself in order to keep Edie by his side. With the help of Father Barry, Terry takes on Johnny Friendly and his mob in an effort to ensure the workers are treated fairly.

Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando and Karl Malden are all powerhouse stars in this film. Each of them ignite the film and when they appear together on screen the results are awesome. The story is fast paced and the finale is terrifically played out. A moving picture with a message. My only complaint about the movie was Brando's character name. At times it sounded like people were saying "Jerry" other times "Gary." I don't know if it was the accents or the distant yelling in some scenes but I was often like, "Who are they talking about?" You are also going to look out for Brando's famous "I coulda been a contender line." It is always a thrill to hear a popular movie line played out in its actual context.