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What I have compiled here is a list of such great characters that still continue to mesmerize us, thanks to the way these character were written, and also because of their amazing portrayal on screen by the respective actors. Read on....
Before you grab your pitchforks and light your torches, I want to clarify that some of these selections are not, in my opinion, bad films. To be overrated is not to be terrible by any means. I just can’t bring myself to qualify them in the very high regard that so many other critics and filmaholics have bestowed upon them.
This compilation (not in any order) will, no doubt, frustrate some that hold these films very dear to their hearts. That’s fine. I am not out to please anyone else but yours truly. Moreover, I should make a very conscious effort to emphasize that my picks here are based on a few criteria: a) Films that were critically lauded, but were works that I did not feverishly revere and/or b) Films that seemed collectively precious and respected by filmgoers (and are highly rated on IMDB), but ones that I did not find so awe-inspiring and resoundingly triumphant.
So hold on to the urge of using your pitchforks and read on...!
In reality, however, it is the directors who use their supreme powers as master storytellers, to draw the audiences into the cinema halls and provide them the joyous escapism they have always yearned for.
Below is my definitive list of 25 directors (with 5 honorary mentions towards the end) who have provided cinema lovers much reason to rejoice, over and over again. Go Feast!!!
Of the scores of movies I have seen over the years, listed below are 100 scenes that I believe are some of the greatest ever. Enjoy!
Though the artistic greatness of films (and other works of art) can never be rated or quantified, I have tried to compile a list of my personal favorites for you. This is what I go to the movies for! Listed below are the movies (in order of liking) that I have rated a perfect ten as also the ones that came close to being rated a 10 on 10.
Let me know your views on the same. Go Feast!!!
That said, the word underrated is problematic and subjective and often given to misuse. Frankly, it’s kind of a landmine and internally, it’s known as the “give them enough rope” feature where some writer inevitably a) makes a terrible choice or b) deeply misunderstands the concept of underrated. Anyway, it’s a list full of individual, subjective opinions that you may throw things at your screen over, or may secretly agree with. But I think that, even if you’re more lined up with the critical consensus than the write-ups below, that you’ll find something interesting.
So below is the list (in alphabetical order) in which I list the most underrated movies of all time. Several movies on this list are well-liked but some bombed, some were panned, and some even sank without trace, but in my humble opinion are all 5-star masterpieces and deserve to be counted among the best in their genre.
So, here's presenting my personal favorite silver screen troikas!
A truly gifted actor is amazing to see in action. They have the ability to make you forget where you are and what you’re doing by drawing you in and convincing you you’re in a different place seeing a drama unfold before your eyes. They take on the essence of different characters seemingly at will. Actors are a dime a dozen. Good actors are hard to find. Great actors are extremely rare, and when you find one, you enjoy their work as much as you can.
The list below is a compilation (ranked in order of liking) of some of the greatest actors in the movie business, who wow audiences with awe-inspiring performances in lead roles even today. To make it to this list, the actor must still be actively making movies and must have peaked as an actor sometime in the last 20 years (hence the omission of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson etc).
With a subject as vast as this, someone significant is bound to fall through the compilation cracks. Read on and enjoy!
If, however, you are in any doubt of the utter brilliance of world cinema, then take your time to read the list below, and pick a few to watch that interest you. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. My only ground rules:
1) No silent films 2) No movies from Britain, Australia or other English-speaking countries.
I am bound to have forgotten a raft of classics—how could I not, with a whole globe to choose from? Please chime in.
Over the years, there have been hundreds of brilliantly directed, perfectly acted, and wonderfully written stories most people never saw. That's unfortunate considering the artistry and effort that goes into making a movie, but with such a wide variety of films on offer, every year it's only natural certain movies would get lost in the fray. This list (in random order) focuses on those hidden gems that didn’t hit big when they were initially released. These range from little-seen horror movies to splashy, star-driven vehicles that for one reason or another didn’t find their audience. Some are sleeper hits from the last half of the century, while others are older classics you may not have seen unless you're a real cinephile - films that never quite crept into the mainstream and deserve a far larger audience. You would neither find them in any 'best of...' lists nor have they been major awards contenders. Well, most of them have less than 30K votes on IMDb.
I am by no means saying all the movies listed here are masterpieces – most do have their flaws. But all of these movies have one thing in common: all of them are compelling films worthy of your time and attention. Do yourself a favor and add these to your queue.
Lo imposible (2012)
While Trying to Recreate the Horror of 2004, Bayona Manages to Do 'The Impossible'!
A married doctor couple, Maria (Watts) and Henry (McGregor), has brought their three young boys on a much-needed vacation to the coast of the Indian Ocean. In a scenic resort, the brood fit in for a gorgeous afternoon poolside with nary a Christmas tree in sight and their holiday plans prepared for a beautiful vacation. That day, however, was not to be the one they had hoped for.
A mere fifteen minutes into the film, a slight breeze catches Maria's hair, quickly turning into a whipping gust of wind. It's one thing to hear stories of tsunamis and the spontaneity with which they appear, but it's another thing to see it happen in front of you. No warning. The ground rumbles, vacationers scatter and scream, their world about to be turned upside down, forever. From complete relaxation to impending death. No warning.Separated by rushing water and dangerous terrain, Maria and their eldest son Lucas (Holland) travel as best they can on her severely wounded leg towards civilization and hopefully help. The first half of the film focuses on this pair as if Henry and their other two children were swept into the sea like so many others. Henry, however, is still alive and his chapter begins at the halfway point when he tries to seek Maria and Lucas out. From then on, it becomes about the apparently insurmountable logistics involved in getting this family back together.
Technically impeccable, 'The Impossible' gives the brutal caprice of nature its due, never romanticizing it or demonizing it. It begins as a steady radio dial, suddenly and violently spun into fits of static and garbled chaos. Director Juan Antonio Bayona conducts this symphony with a steady hand and a wonderful visual eye. He spins the focus in on a single family caught up in the disaster, personalizing the horror and bringing it home in unashamedly melodramatic fashion on its very own tidal wave of emotion. While doing so, Bayona creates one of the most traumatizing and realistic disaster sequences in history. Avoiding the temptation to fill his piece with dramatic underscore that swells as our protagonists are tumbled in the muddy waters of the invading ocean, Bayona removes all musical accompaniment for this portion permitting loudness and utter silence to fill our senses along with visual stimuli that will leave you scarcely able to breathe. This swift wrath of nature is expertly realized, but the heart of the film is in its characters and how they respond to the betrayal of the world around them.
Naomi Watts, in her career best performance, expresses the rooted emotions of a mother both physically and emotionally, filling the film with so much fearlessness and unshakable motivation, that she enraptures the audience with her survival instincts. Ewan McGregor provides able support as the distressed father and is extremely competent. Tom Holland delivers one of the strongest juvenile debuts seen in years, conveying a complex series of emotions with natural serenity.
The Impossible separates itself from the other disaster films by focusing not just on the scale of the mayhem, but the intimacy of the struggle. Yes it takes us back to an epic nightmare that was the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, but the flashback is vertiginous and horrible and oddly poetic.
The Day of the Jackal (1973)
For the 'Jackal', Killing The President is All in a Day's Work!
Fred Zinnemann's 'The Day of the Jackal' is a patient, studied and quasi-documentary translation of Frederick Forsyth's best-selling political suspense novel. The film appeals more to the intellect than the brute senses, as it traces the detection of an assassin hired to kill French President Charles de Gaulle.
The story is set in Paris during a week in August of 1962. President De Gaulle (played by an uncanny look-alike), by granting Algeria their independence, upsets right-wing extremists and disgruntled war veterans, who form a secret terrorist organization known as OAS and vow to assassinate him. The film opens to a failed attempt on De Gaulle as he rides in a motorcade. After the OAS culprits are arrested and their leader executed six months later, their new leader and his three top aides secretly hire a mysterious Englishman- the eponymous Jackal (Fox) - to assassinate the President. Jackal accepts the offer and begins his methodical work to prepare the assassination. In the meantime, French security services receive some information about OAS plans and decide to hand over the case to Inspector Lebel (Lonsdale), the best investigator in France. But he doesn't even know who the jackal is. He learns the name "Jackal" from an informer in the plotter's ranks and cleverly pieces together the identity of the killer-for-hire.
What follows is an intricate and meticulous story with a parallel structure that details the Jackal's preparations for the assassination and Lebel's efforts to stop him. The major asset of the film is that it succeeds in maintaining interest and suspense despite obvious viewer foreknowledge of the outcome. Director Zinnemann faithfully follows the source, presenting a precise, almost discomfiting reconstruction of the story. He directs it with the skill of a master craftsman, creating a riveting cat-and-mouse game between the mysterious lone-wolf hired assassin known only by his code name and the master policeman in charge of the investigation. He does a fine job of presenting the narrative in such a precise way despite offering no psychological analysis or humor, building in tension to the concluding assassination attempt. Playing the titular Jackal, Edward Fox is superb as the coldly impassionate killer. He's boyishly charming, impeccably groomed, possessed of an easy laugh, and casually ruthless. Michael Lonsdale is properly plodding, yet magnificently analytical as the detective tracking him down.
The Day of the Jackal is a polished, electrifying thriller, mercifully unburdened with heavy political digressions. The screenplay meticulously assembles an incredible array of material, and then Fred Zinnemann choreographs it so that the story - complicated as it is - unfolds in almost documentary starkness. Telling the story very methodically, by exposing small details that would later be important pieces of great puzzle, he manages to achieve a dignified tone and compelling pace seldom seen in latter-day thrillers.
'Earthlings' Presents an Inconvenient Truth about Human Nature!
Early on, Earthlings, a documentary film by Shaun Monson, presents striking images of Nazi genocidal atrocities towards Jews, which elicit a curious cognitive dissonance in the viewer's mind - certainly the Jews were cruelly "treated like animals", but on this occasion we are moved to ask a different question: should even animals be treated this way? Or did the Nazi treatment of Jews stem in fact from the socially accepted reduction of animals to mere objects? From there on, it goes on to discuss the extent of modern society's pervasive speciesism, successively covering five expanses: Pets, Food, Clothes, Entertainment and Science. The ordering of this sequence is cunning and effective, and it helps Monson make his case about the endemic nature of speciesism in our society.
Earthlings speaks to our innate sense of compassion. Something that is there inside all of us, but needs a reawakening. It is a movie that examines our spiritual conscience, personal evolution and so much more. I did have to prepare myself before I watched it mentally not to cry through the entire movie. I managed to get by with tears welling up in my eyes, and some trickling down my face, but that was unavoidable. If you have at least a bit of a heart within you, this movie is going to make you cringe at times and evoke some serious emotion, but that is not a good enough reason not to see it. I'm not going to attempt to describe the ghastly scenes in Earthlings. There were parts I missed because I had to turn away. At other times I acted like a little kid watching a horror film, covering my face with my hands, only watching what could slip through the cracks between my fingers. But this is no horror movie. Earthlings is real. Yes, it is inconvenient to find this out. Yes, it is going to make you rethink your ways, and yes, it may lead you to make some major changes in your life, but that is what evolution of the human being and spirit is all about.
As a production, Monson's Earthlings is a meticulously crafted work, featuring narration by Joaquin Phoenix, a moodily effective musical score by Moby, and rare footage from inside the animal factory farming industry that must have been difficult to acquire, giving it the right atmosphere and the right facts to really drive the message home.
Earthlings forcefully, sometimes disturbingly, reminds us of an essential character of our consciousness, something about ourselves that our culture often dismisses: compassion and empathy. Along the way it shows and tells some inconvenient truths that most of us would probably prefer to avoid, laying bare a mass hypocrisy that we mindlessly accept. Earthlings shows us what is right there to see, if we would only look directly and honestly.
Forget Motion-Capture, This is Motion-Rapture!
A decade has passed since the simian flu ravaged mankind. Living a peaceful existence in the wilderness of a San Francisco forest near an abandoned dam, the apes have carved out a life without humans who they presume have long died out due to the simian flu virus. Their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) has set up an enormous community of primates and has taught sign language to his subjects, and some, like him, can even speak. The genetically-evolving apes are celebrating the arrival of a new baby, all the time wondering if humans have indeed been wiped out. But alas, the ape's idyllic lifestyle is rudely interrupted! When least expected, up trundles a bunch of those pesky humans led by family man Malcolm (Jason Clarke), searching for hydro-electric power. If the humans can restart the nearby dam, you know it really will be a case of "lights back on, camera and... action"! After a period of deliberation, negotiation and intimidation tactics between the species a raging battle begins.
'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' presents a simple conflict of interests, but the characters on either side are written with an appealing depth. What could have easily become an annoying cavalcade of obvious mix-ups between species becomes something so much more fascinating. The humans' leader (Gary Oldman), for instance, who wants to decimate the apes if they won't allow access to the dam, is not a mustache-twirling sadist but simply a frightened and grieving man charged with protecting his small pocket of humanity. On the other side, the intelligent, heroic and non-belligerent Caesar has a scarred and bad-ass adviser, Koba (Toby Kebbell), who hates humans because they tortured him in the lab. Caesar still remembers the kindness he received from some humans and brokers a peace between the two factions. This does not sit well with Koba who longs to battle. He will soon get his wish.
Matt Reeves takes the reins of this shrewd franchise and runs confidently with visceral wanton destruction. He conjures a spectacle, delivering both action and character drama, that has you cheering on instinctively. When you are sufficiently captivated by the story not to raise so much as a smile at the spectacle of an enraged chimpanzee on horseback brandishing a machine gun, then you have to give credit where it's due. Andy Serkis doffs the motion capture cap as Caesar. He gives Caesar a quiet dignity and, almost makes him human in his emotions. The digital effects are seamless and combined with Serkis' acting beneath it, a believable sense of compassion and anger is conveyed. Toby Kebbell excels in being completely terrifying under his ape guise, enabling the scenes between himself and Serkis to become tightly wound and impactful drama. The humans take somewhat of a back seat but help guide the story along with their meddling and moral turmoil.
All through this riveting drama, your disbelief remains willfully suspended. Forget motion-capture, this is motion-rapture!
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Audrey Hepburn Leaping in the 'Dark' Makes for an Exceptionally Tense Thriller!
Terence Young's Wait until Dark, based on Frederick Knott's gimmicky stage play, is as an exceptional suspense drama - a perfect example of how mood, atmosphere, music, and direction can overcome plot contrivances.
The plot lurks around Suzy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn, in a superior performance), a recently blinded NYC housewife whose husband Sam is determined to make "the world's champion blind lady" out of her. Although she can handle most of her daily chores alone, she still requires some help from Gloria, the dorky pre-teen girl who lives upstairs. Unbeknownst to her, Sam has accidentally played into the hands of heroin-smuggling mole who plants a dope-loaded doll in his possession. It doesn't take long for Suzy to get herself in trouble when a group of con men grease their way into her apartment in an elaborate plot to locate the doll. Two of them are merely petty con-men, but their employer Harry Roat (Alan Arkin who is unbelievably creepy) is a sinister monster. From there on, the movie ruthlessly tightens the screws of tension, all leading up to the nail-biting climax, as Roat and Suzy come face to face in her pitch-dark apartment.
The film makes little effort to overcome its origins as a play, as the majority of the action takes place in Suzy's apartment. Though some of the more contrived elements of Knott's play are still intact here, Terence Young's presentation of Suzy's cloistered surroundings trumps the script's far-fetched tendencies as he manages to create a paradoxical environment of civilization devoid of human life. Also, Young makes the smart decision of setting his thriller inside a basement apartment, the cave-like arches of which have the unsettling effect of positioning Hepburn in a nondescript underground (the windows only look out on the feet of passersby, emphasizing Suzy's disconnect from her neighborhood). Terence Young's remarkable ability to create a believable oppressive locality in Wait until Dark obscures plot holes and irrationalities right up to the film's extended final showdown. By the time Suzy realizes she's completely and hopelessly alone in her apartment, the cumulative effect of Hepburn's palpable desolation and Arkin's ruthlessness, combined with Henry Mancini's overpoweringly harrowing score, bring the film to a justly celebrated climactic bacchanalia, complete with one of suspense cinema's first and most effective shock leaps.
Once seen, Wait until Dark will never be forgotten. But be wary if you watch it alone. In fact, watch it with someone who likes to scream!
Harold and Maude (1971)
Harold and Maude is A Cult Classic that Represents the Woof and Warp of the 70's!
Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude attained cult status for its portrayal of a morbid youth who falls in love with a spirited woman not twice, but four times his age.
Harold is a withdrawn rich boy who has a proclivity for staging elaborate - often gory - "suicides" to torment his very-proper control-freak of a mother, who remains blissfully unaffected by his theatrics. When he is not trying get a rise from his maternally inept mother, he is attending funerals of complete strangers, just for the fun of it. It's at one of these staid ceremonies that he meets the free-spirited octogenarian Maude. It turns out that attending strangers' funerals is about the only thing they have in common, which is why they turn out to be a match made in heaven. Soon they are spending time together, and Maude's full-throttle zest for life opens Harold up to its possibilities. His death obsession remains, but it begins to recede as Maude's life-affirming philosophies, however oddly enacted in her anything-goes lifestyle, cuts through his malaise. She speaks in hippie-friendly aphorisms, but coming from the mouth of such a delicately poised octogenarian, they take on the weight of accumulated wisdom. More than a friend or lover, Maude infects Harold with her carpe diem attitude, freeing him from the inner demons of boredom and self-pity. The pair soon fall into a romantic relationship that shouts in the face of societal mores.
It's a disquieting premise for a movie, certainly, but to dwell on the age difference of the characters is to miss the movie's point. Part of the beauty of Harold and Maude is the way you quickly lose sight of the age difference between Harold and Maude and begin to see them simply as people who connect and love each other. They are oddballs in a world that doesn't understand or appreciate them, although the film sidesteps simple us-versus-them banality by portraying the establishment as kooky in its own right. The film spends much of its time in a unique space between reality and farce, towing a fine line that director Hal Ashby maintains with seemingly effortless grace. Its bleak morbidity is uncommonly matched by its over-the-top hilarity (Harold's long series of faux suicide attempts are hysterical), buoyed by Cat Stevens' amazing pop soundtrack, providing just the right wistful, mournful touch for this glimmering jewel of a movie.
The casting is impeccable. With his baby face and elfin eyes, Bud Cort looks much younger than his age, which makes some of his antics seem even more childlike. Yet, once he spends time with Maude, he seems to mature in front of us, losing the angry-child glint in his eyes and becoming a reformed innocent. Ruth Gordon's sprightliness lends the perfect counterbalance to Bud, as she plays Maude as a one-of-a-kind without turning her into a kook. She evinces such sweetness and genuine care for what she loves that you can't help but admire her constancy.
By turns funny, moving and outrageous - sometimes all at once - the film is Hal Ashby's masterpiece, thanks in no small part to Colin Higgins' nearly perfect screenplay and the incredible performances by everyone. If you've never seen Harold and Maude, that needs correcting.
Relatos salvajes (2014)
'Wild Tales' is Deliriously Creative, Wickedly Hilarious, Deliciously Diabolical and Above All, Wild!
Damián Szifron's 'Wild Tales' is a deliriously creative, deliciously diabolical anthology film about modern day violence. It is an outrageous collection of shorts set in Szifron's homeland—a sextet of improbable shaggy-dog stories, insane urban legends and entertainingly twisted cautionary yarns of the sort that people dispense during a night of heavy drinking, tied together by violent themes. Through six short parables, every facet of violence gets held up to the camera: its capacity for destruction, for vengeance, for justice, for renewal - in its most cathartic but glorious form.
The film opens with one of the most daring "eff-you's" in years involving a group of plane passengers who make a terrible, terrible discovery after take-off. From there follows five more stories: a young waitress struggles to decide whether or not to put rat poison in the food of a loan shark who ruined her family's life; two motorists - a self-centered yuppie and a fed-up average - see how far road rage can push them in a game of deadly one-oneupmanship; a demolitions expert becomes a folk hero after fighting back against a corrupt transportation department; a rich father gets in over his head after he tries to bribe his grounds-keeper to take the blame for his drunk son's fatal hit-and-run accident; a wedding goes off the rails as a newlywed bride systematically humiliates and emotionally annihilates her groom after discovering that he cheated on her with a comely brunette and then invited her to the wedding reception - each story ups the ante in terms of rage.
Szifron never attempts a grand statement about the nature of violence. He just lets each situation take itself to its logical, exaggerated conclusion. But something else lingers underneath all of this damn-near macabre madness. Most of the stories include a tug-of-war between social castes, with the upper and working classes duking it out over who can do the most dirt. But every time, the grim veneer of gallows humor shimmers through. While the stories themselves are about the joys of losing control, their creator knows exactly what can be achieved with crafty pacing, masterly editing and a precisely controlled balance between the matter-of-fact and the shamelessly hysterical. This is a master craftsman presenting a confident vision of revenge and primal anger that ranges from playful to disturbing. Szifron has a devilish good time crafting the shorts and exhibits a sophisticated eye, and a flair for creating morally ambiguous characters you don't know whether to root for. But that's Wild Tales for you - a wondrous, whacked-out look at volatile human beings doing what they think is right, when wronged.
Wild Tales is a splendidly anarchic portrait of a world on the verge of a nervous breakdown - as sharp as a corkscrew and every bit as twisted. Like a vicious predator, it sinks its claws into your neck before you even see it coming - a provocative film that dares you to have a good time while it churns your guts.
First Blood (1982)
Rambo Gets His 'Blood' Up in this Wickedly Enjoyable Action-Thriller!
'First Blood' follows John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), a green beret who had a successful and violent career in Vietnam but has terrible memories from the war that plague his life. He is also trying to find a way back into society and recover from the hell he experienced. When he wanders dazedly into a small town called Hope in the Pacific Northwest, he falls foul of an over-zealous hick, the town sheriff. Soon the local law enforcement officers detain him and harass him to a breaking point, giving him flashbacks of the torture he experienced in Vietnam. Rambo snaps and goes on the run, hunted by the authorities who don't realize how dangerous he really is.
At this point the film turns essentially into a chase movie with Rambo foiling his pursuers at every turn. Hiding in the dense woodland and mountainous terrain, he fends off the local posse using guerrilla methods he learned in Vietnam. Described by his former commanding officer as "a killing machine", we soon learn that Rambo isn't a cold-blooded killer. He's almost a Boy Scout, and a phenomenal Boy Scout at that, who concentrates not on revenge, not on unmotivated mayhem, but on survival in the wilderness. The violence continues to escalate through the movie, all leading up to an apocalyptic conclusion.
Boasting some of the best use of rugged landscape seen in years, First Blood is an effective, if outlandish, picture that offers several big-screen thrills. The plot may seem preposterous, but as directed by Ted Kotcheff, the movie has a crude but undeniable momentum. He knows how to stage an action scene with flair and keeps the film moving along at a rapid pace. The emphasis is clearly on toughness and versatility, as a battered, bloody Mr. Stallone demonstrates a wide range of scouting skills, from building traps to exploring a pitch-black cave; he also slaughters wild animals and gives himself stitches. He barely says a word in the entire film, save for one long and laughably pat speech that comes up at the end, about how Vietnam has affected him and why he has lashed out against the small town, which has him sounding even more incoherent than the screenplay warrants. But as a powerful, silent, hollow-eyed presence, he is unexpectedly commanding. He makes sure that Rambo is seen as a tormented, misread, amazingly resourceful victim of the War, rather than as a sadist or a villain, by allowing us to look into the disturbed psychological head-space of a lone man, bent on survival.
Call it macho crap. Call it mindless escapism. Call it Sly's grand posturing. In fact, call it all of the above. First Blood is still a captivating and wickedly enjoyable action/thriller, with a degree of intelligence and substance.
The Great Debaters (2007)
For a Film About The Power of Speech, it is The Quiet Moments of Rapture That Say Everything!
The Great Debaters chronicles a chapter in the life of a fascinating man, Professor Melvin B. Tolson, who created quite a name for himself by assembling a prodigious all-black debate team, while also creating a stir with his radical politics.
The movie takes place in Marshall, Texas in 1935 at the all-black Wiley College. On the first day of class, Tolson (Denzel Washington oozing the charisma, intensity and barely reined rage he always taps into) announces the debate team tryouts at his house the same night. The tryouts draw 45 students, vying for four positions. He eventually staffs the debate team with an eclectic rag-tag group of debaters: Intelligent-but-brooding Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), who is a randy loose cannon, makes the team, along with returning member Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams). The team is rounded out by alternates Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett), an absolute stunner and the only female to try out, and James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), the 14-year-old son of the college president, who has the experience to do the massive research required for the debates. Tolson employs unrelenting, unconventional methods to train his team, which pay off in victory after victory in debates with other Black colleges. Unbeknownst to his students, Tolson writes to several white universities to try to secure an unprecedented debate with one of them; his ultimate dream is a long-shot debate with Harvard.
No story works well without conflict and The Great Debaters brings it on in the second act. Personal relations become a problem when Samantha and Nate form a couple, and James – who has had a crush on Samantha from day one – can no longer control his anger over their relationship. Another problem arises when the local police learns of Tolson's secret dealings trying to help unionize the local sharecroppers and farmers, a mixed-race partnership. But Tolson and the four under his tutelage fight not only with the racism of the time but also with tensions within their own ranks, as they eventually get the coveted shot against Harvard.
As is well-known, academic competitions are addictive nail-biters. When you add the racial tensions of a segregated South, you've got a powerful emotional dynamic. Enough fictional liberties were taken with the movie to make it fit neatly on the inspirational genre shelf, but it's grounded in enough reality to excuse Robert Eisle's we-shall-overcome contrivances. Denzel Washington's crisp direction and the sharp performances by everyone – giving us characters we can root for - help to leaven the inspirational emphasis of the screenplay while steadily building tension. Surprisingly, for a film about the power of speech, it's the quiet moments of rapture that say everything.
The Great Debaters may be accused of being naked in its shameless desire to make audiences wince at every setback and cheer at every victory. The strength of the movie is that it gets away with it almost every time. By the time it's over, even cynics will be fighting the impulse to stand up and cheer.
True Romance (1993)
This is Both - An Irreverent High-Voltage Thriller And A ' Truly Quirky Romance'!
'True Romance' is a deliciously pulpy romp that saw director Tony Scott bring a burnished visual sheen to an early Quentin Tarantino script. While the title suggests images of hugs, kisses, holding hands, and heartfelt human emotion, the film instead bombards the audience with images of blazing guns, brutal beatings, and lots of gushing blood while telling a twisted and entertaining tale of outlaw lovers on the run.
Clarence (Christain Slater in his best role ever) is a comic-book store employee, living a meager but not intolerable life in Detroit. On his birthday night, he meets a pretty blonde hooker named Alabama (Patricia Arquette, reliably efficient and displaying a great chemistry with Slater) and they are soon positively smitten, declaring their love for each other, only to be married a few days later. Clarence goes to see her pimp, Drexl (a truly whacked-out Gary Oldman who devours his ten minutes on screen), with the meeting ending with Clarence killing him and making off with a suitcase. The case, which Clarence thought contained Alabama's clothes, actually contains two-million dollars' worth of cocaine, and this puts this newly-married duo find themselves in quite the thorny predicament. Once the dust - and blood - clears, they decide to trek off to Hollywood to see Clarence's pal who might know some industry folks interested in high-quality coke. Little do they know that Drexl's partners (led by Christopher Walken's quietly malicious Vincenzo) are tracking them and intend to get their merchandise back, eliminating the couple for good measure.
True Romance is a paper-thin but enjoyably quirky romance carried by great dialogue, an unpredictable plot, and a cast of wildly original characters. The storyline is far from earth-shattering, but it guarantees some good escapist fun, especially since the script boasts a few scenes possessive of great wit and sparkle, along with a show-stopping one chock-full of dynamic psychological tension – between Dennis Hopper (who brings a phenomenal degree of warmth as Clarence's father) and Christopher Walken, whose "vendetta kinda mood" head-to-head became one of the most memorable sparrings of cinema. Many people may be turned off by the graphic and sometimes savage violence of True Romance. But that is only part of the dirty, funny and unpredictably violent genius of Mr. Tarantino. Tarantino and Tony Scott never pretend that the film is more than what it is - slickly entertaining trash.
Eventually, it is Tarantino's gutter poetry that detonates True Romance. This movie is dynamite - a hip, clever and irreverent high-voltage thriller with nary a dull moment!
Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton's Tour-De-Force Acts Make 'Becket' Glorious!
'Becket' examines the rather intricate relationship between the headstrong 11th-century King Henry II of England (O'Toole) and his lifelong friend, Thomas Becket (Burton). On the surface, the two appear to be really close chums who spend their time wenching and drinking - king and servant, but friends foremost. However, there are layers below this, as Henry clearly revels in his lust for living and more than a little affection for his servant Becket. Unable to consummate his love for his fellow man, he drowns his desires in women. Becket is much more of an enigma, and his motivations are somewhat elusive. He clearly relishes the company of his king, but is not entirely comfortable with his attentions. He is a Saxon, one of the conquered, requiring him to straddle the gulf between honor and collaboration, serving his Norman King in several capacities – as a valet, a bodyguard and a military adviser. He wears his compromises poorly, and longs for a simpler, honorable way of living.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury dies, with view to subjugate the mighty Church, Henry picks Becket to be the successor, despite not even being an ordained priest, which proves to be his undoing. As soon as the miter is upon his head and the silver cross in his hand, Becket becomes a thorn in the king's side, opposing him on a point of principle, straining their friendship and putting Becket's life in peril. Henry loves Becket, as he adores no other human being in his life, and it hurts him to the core that Becket chooses honor over their friendship. 'Becket' soon moves from power play to power struggle, a struggle that Henry is not ready to lose.
On the surface, Becket appears to be a humdrum king versus a dignified politician war. But, here, the primary conflict is between the throne of England in its debauchery, and the Church, with its compromised morality. The characters, even while wearing robes of power, stink to highest heaven in every sense. While protected by their power, they freely admit the moral sewer they occupy, and serve their gluttonous appetites with aplomb. Absolute power allows the veneer of quality to drip away, and we can be most thankful for this lack of varnish. Just as the characters' loyalties to one another are called into question, so, too are ours: 'Becket' enters a moral gray area from which it never fully emerges.
Becket crackles with whip-smart dialogue and is anchored by a sharp screenplay that finds resonance even today. Peter Glenville directs with a flamboyant hand, but mostly he lets his two leads have free rein, and the results are glorious. Richard Burton is always at his best when reserved, and this is no exception. Peter O'Toole rips into the script as if he invented the art of acting, and belts out some of the best lines. He has a slithery charm that suddenly erupts into volcanic expulsions of blind fury. His chemistry with Burton is ripe with homo-erotic undercurrents, which O'Toole mines with relish in a hysterical performance, full of cunning, eloquence and mad outbursts.
Years later, Becket remains just as incandescent and relevant!
Lone Survivor (2013)
'Lone Survivor' Is A Ball-Breaker of A Film!
War is a lot of things, but it's useless to pretend that exciting isn't one of them. From an adrenaline standpoint that might well be the case, but in every other respect, from every other possible viewpoint, it's an inescapable waking nightmare that you'd never wish upon anyone. If that doesn't ring true for you, go see 'Lone Survivor'.
Adapted from a memoir by Marcus Luttrell, it tells the story of a special unit of the U.S army comprising of four SEALs led by Marcus himself, who are sent on a mission to kill a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. The four bunker down in the mountains in search of their target, but when the squad silently moves within sight of the compound where the besieged commander is seen training his men, they realize the mission is going to be far different than anticipated. Soon they find themselves outnumbered, pinned down on a scraggy hill. With phone signals going out in the mountainous terrain, barring them from calling in an exfiltration, a fight for their lives begins. Pursued through inhospitable mountains by several hundred Taliban and cut off from their support, a wretched retreat follows, where the exploits of those four soldiers quite simply defy belief.
Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Taylor Kitsch play the four imperiled SEALs, and from the moment they elect to abort the mission, 'Lone Survivor' becomes a ball-breaker of a film, as you slowly see shock and fear overtake their bodies. Each actor sells the utter terror of the situation and there is a visceral element to the performances as each character is mutilated beyond recognition. They give an incredible amount of emotional weight to the moments where their characters must face their fate, even though the plot is shackled to a definitive outcome.
Director Peter Berg captures the raw intensity of combat and carnage on both sides of the battlefront and the heroics that forge an indelible spirit in combat. Working with a crutch of a title, there is an incredible amount of pressure on Berg to implement the 'how' element of the story and he overcomes the challenge with the precision of the army commandos he's portraying. He takes his time getting to the conflict and the anticipation of the skirmish is extreme because you're expecting the worst and that's exactly what you get. The skirmishes are gut wrenching in their brutality and Berg puts you in tight confines of makeshift foxholes and rifle sights to amplify the claustrophobia of the situation. Shot in furious sweeps and featuring smashing sound design, it is heart stopping watching the soldiers scramble across rocky outcrops and tumble down cliffs with their bones crunching against trees and boulders; the stunt work is astonishing. Berg trips up a little on a few slow motion edits that break the gritty realism but when the unit take stock on their ghastly wounds you're jolted back into the hopelessness of the situation.
This is a war movie at its most confronting; it terrifyingly captures the confusion, brutality, chaos and intensity of combat in a way. It's a suffocating sort of tension - with all its bone-breaking, blood-splattering, white-knuckle skirmish - and whilst there's no question the movie suffers from some clumsy jingoism, the experience is so palpable, you frequently find yourself ducking in your own seat.
Le locataire (1976)
If You Haven't Seen It Already, You Owe it to Yourself to 'Rent - The Tenant'!
'The Tenant' is the final film in Roman Polanski's unofficial trilogy of films about apartment dwellers gradually succumbing to their paranoia. Like Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, it is about the protagonist's own perception of what's being "done to him" and exists only in the darkest recesses of his own mind.
It tells the story of the strange series of occupations that take place when Mr. Trelkovsky (a fabulously understated Polanski himself), a filing clerk in a library, moves into a two-room Paris apartment made vacant by the attempted suicide of the previous tenant. Small boned and physically vulnerable, he seems to be aware of having put off people all his life. Thus he goes to great lengths to avoid offending his neighbors.
Little by little, Trelkovsky comes to suspect that the other tenants in the building have somehow been responsible for the earlier tenant's suicide attempt. He suffers persecution from apparently everyone in sight. The concierge and his landlord monitor his arrivals and departures. A housewarming party for his bullying colleagues excites complaints about his alleged boisterousness. He nearly lands a gorgeous girl but shrinks away when he suspects she's in on the conspiracy. A mysterious woman appears at his door with her crippled daughter to report that there's a conspiracy afoot to have her kicked out of the building. A busybody turns against him when he refuses to sign a petition to evict the woman but this lone heroic stand means that when the persecuted woman takes a dump on every other tenant's doormat, he has to scoop up some excrement and put it outside his own flat so he won't be blamed. But he answers all the unaccountable rudeness with infinite patience. One morning when he wakes up in full drag, missing the tooth that the dead girl was missing, he is finally convinced that his tenants are engaged in a conspiracy to drive him to suicide by forcing him to take on the personality of the dead woman. All this leads to a scandalous double climax that is still among the most despairing in cinema.
'The Tenant' works so well is because it isn't so much a psychological portrait of grief as it is an unnerving acknowledgement of the ambiguous nature of the world. It displays Polanski's clear-eyed narrative discipline, with a creepiness that seeps right into your bones and never lets up. His nightmare vision of the apartment building as an almost living and completely malevolent entity remains unmatched by anyone in its astonishing hallucinatory horrors. Via seemingly simple albeit absurd exchanges, with flashes of black humor, he brilliantly evokes an evil society's almost supernatural ability to recognize weakness in others and to punish all that is good.
The Tenant is a chilling exercise in urban paranoia and mental disintegration that overwhelmingly solipsistic and ultimately alienating.
Shrek Maybe Ugly But Here He Sparkles with Charm and Irreverence!
Shrek (Mike Myers) is a green, obnoxious ogre who bathes (and gargles) in mud, is notoriously flatulent and makes a candle out of his earwax. He knows perfectly well he's not welcome in polite society and just wants is to be left alone in his swamp. But Shrek has a couple of problems. One is a stubborn, trash-talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) who has latched onto him and the other is the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow, subtly underplaying), who has dumped all the disenfranchised fairytale creatures of the land in Shrek's backyard. So the Seven Dwarfs hauling a dead Snow White around in her glass casket, the Three Bears, Pinocchio, the Big Bad Wolf and a horde of other beloved Disney characters turn up in the swamp of our misanthropic ogre and spoil his view with their squalid refugee camp. Shrek cuts a deal with the nasty Lord to get his solitude back: Rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz, surprisingly amazing) from the castle guarded by a fire-breathing dragon and his land will be cleared of the squatters. So the reluctant ogre goes on his quest, with the yammering Donkey at his side. They encounter the dragon, which has a soft spot for donkeys, and rescue Fiona so that she can marry Farquaad. Things then get complicated, and quite adorable, as Shrek finds a soft spot for the lady. But the Princess does not only have real chemistry with the ogre, but also a dark secret of her own.
Some wise guys sure had a blast making Shrek. That's certain. You can feel the snap, crackle and the pop of creation here as talented animators take a classic story and twist it to make fun of both fairy tales and the Disney behemoth. No one has attempted to take the starch out of these beloved icons, never with such wicked glee. "Though she lives with seven men, she's not easy!" barks Shrek about Snow White while Cinderella is called "a mentally abused shut-in" – with riotous irreverence, they lampoon every once-sacred characteristic of the nursery kingdom. Whether any of this is actionable is for the courts to decide. But in the court of public opinion, it's hilarious! You can almost picture the makers giggling as they come up with non-stop wisecracks, stopping only to groove on the computer images they've made. From the lush countryside that Shrek roams through, to the amazing, textured faces on each of its characters, Shrek is a stunning achievement. The animation is used subtly and intelligently, with great humor, never pushing things further than the technology will allow. Its musical scenes are unusually powerful, its wit remarkably vicious, its central love story genuinely touching.
What gives Shrek its special artistic distinction is its witty and knowingly sassy dialogue, delivered by vocally charismatic performers. Shrek may be a mean, green halitosis machine, but it doesn't take long to love him, warts and all, thanks to Mike Myers who reprises his Scottish accent to great comic effect. Eddie Murphy steals every scene he's in with equal parts bounce and warmth as the yakky Donkey and practically gallops off with the movie.
With improbable finesse, Shrek buffs up some of the oldest tropes of storytelling and then gives them a mischievous tilt, so that we appear to be watching a celebration of a genre and a sneaky subversion of it at the same time. It is an adorable, infectious work of true sophistication!
Stand by Me (1986)
'Stand By Me' is An Absolute Standout!
'Stand By Me' is told in the form of a memoir, as established writer Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss), stunned by a local newspaper item about the death of a close friend, sits in his car, remembering back to 1959. Then, in the fullness of late summer, he and three of his friends embarked on an adventure that changed the course of their very carefree existence: a journey deep into the nearby woods to find the body of one of their very own missing classmates. Weeks prior, Ray Brower had disappeared and was presumed dead by authorities; now, armed with a veiled suggestion that his remains rest by a lake near where train tracks cross through the woods, the four hike up to the woodland grave-site to discover the body, bring it back to town and be hailed as heroes by the media.
The movie cuts through what might otherwise be perceived as a devastating tragedy with a sense of cheerful displacement; in turn, we find certain nostalgic amusement in the way the young characters converse over embarrassment, implausible fears, the uncertain future, camaraderie and, most importantly, bullying. They also deal with devastating pasts that feel like shadows looming off camera – beanpole slim Gordie is still devastated by the untimely death of his oldest brother, bespectacled Teddy is abused by his mentally ill father, the no-nonsense leader of the gang Chris lacks a support system and pudgy little Vern is always in the wrong place at the wrong time and often verbalizes his inner paranoia in ways the others find comical. Each is something of a social misfit, subtly played by a phenomenal young cast and in the hands of these four, it makes for a journey thick in sarcasm but laced with an underlying dread that sneaks its way into their upbeat demeanors. They cling to their innocence even as the world around them grows darker, and when the plot insists they confront the gnawing influence of reality head-on, they refuse to be broken by the experience.
Director Rob Reiner has a remarkable ear for the rhythms and slang of these boys on the cusp, a keen eye for their bravado. In his effortless handling of the complexity of group dynamics, with its undeclared wars and mercurial alliances, he gracefully blends raucous comedy with intense drama and delivers a film that is as much about the loss of innocence as it is of the getting of wisdom. He cleverly inter-cuts the sobering undercurrent of pathos with frequent dialogue exchanges that are succinct, carefree and sometimes rather amusing. These exchanges become the path through which we empathize with their plight, gain perspective in their approach and, ultimately, find parallels in our own formative years. And because Stand by Me is an adult's recollection of the turning point of his youth, the film very effectively contrasts a boy's consciousness with that of a man's. Dreyfuss' dryly funny narration provides both shrewd comic relief from the juvenile melodramatics and a mature perspective of a child's crisis.
Rob Reiner's bucolic, nostalgic drama is suffused with the magic of childhood and rightfully deserves its place in the heart of an entire generation.
Shichinin no samurai (1954)
Akira Kurosawa's Jidai-Geki Epic Showcases His Bravura Filmmaking!
Akira Kurosawa's jidai-geki epic 'Seven Samurai' can be counted among the greatest of all battle movies - a majestic tale of heroism, sacrifice and death, that remains unmatched, even today. Set in 1587, it follows the story of a village of farmers that hire seven master-less samurai to combat bandits who will return after the harvest to steal their crops. The displaced samurai - seven sword-swinging, bow-and-arrow footmen of varied courage and personality - put aside class differences in order to defend the village that has been the unfortunate target of the gang of marauding bandits for a long time.
The first half where the lead samurai gathers his troops and journeys to the village, is fascinating, full of vigor and life. But the second half - where the samurai train the peasant villagers to fight and then take on the bandit horde, resisting wave after wave of horseback assaults with sword and rifle in the driving rain, the bandits battering against the improvised fortifications, trading deaths until the last rifle shot and sword-slash - is one of the most thrilling sustained passages of action cinema ever.
On that simple framework and familiar storyline, director Akira Kurosawa plasters a wealth of rich detail, which brilliantly illuminates his characters and the kind of action in which they are involved. We feel the warfare so intensely because of his mastery of staging and editing the violence. But we also feel the film because the characters are so strong, especially the seven samurai themselves: heroes in the truest sense, but also convincingly idiosyncratic and human. The film's three and a half hour length is more than justified by the intricate character development of both the samurai and the villagers, as both groups let go of class biases to accomplish their mutual goal of fortifying the village. The legendary Takashi Shimura as the ageing, and oddly charismatic leader and Toshirô Mifune as the arrogant ronin looking to outdo his compatriots lead a superb cast, and Kurosawa's kinetic camera keeps the adventure sizzling with energy and wit from start to finish. By the climactic showdowns against the bandits, a palpable anxiety is present due to the great affinity the audience feels for the characters.
Rich in detail, vivid in characterization and leisurely in exposition, Seven Samurai is bravura filmmaking. Akira Kurosawa synthesizes the traditions of the samurai narrative and the American western to create an intimate epic with deeply felt ground-level consequences. While doing so, he deflates the myth of the noble samurai without actually debunking it and sends a dark thrill through his audience with a touch of sensuous physical reality.
Cidade de Deus (2002)
'City of God' is A Place Where Life is Cheap, But Humanity is Richly Vibrant!
Brazillian director Fernando Meirelles' splashy feature debut is a dynamically exciting portrait of Rio de Janeiro's violent gangs - a blood-spattered, non-stop ride as much into the life of a 'favela' (squatter settlement) as it is into the lives of the youths who inhabit it.
The methodically constructed screenplay is narrated with subjective clarity by Rocket, a young aspiring photographer caught between his deadly surroundings and his treasured sense of ambition. The movie's principal characters, growing up in the Brazilian slum 'Cidade de Deus' in the 60's, are a bunch of drug-peddling, gun-toting hoods hell-bent on revenge - with the notable exception of Rocket, who would rather aim a camera than a shotgun. But Rocket's tale is only one of the dozens of stories 'City of God' juggles with equal aplomb. From the breakneck opening involving a chicken on the lam, the film throbs with several stories: two and a half hours fly by fast and bloody. There's Knockout Ned, a quiet ex-soldier who believes that education and honest work will get him out of the slum. There's Li'l Ze, a vicious drug kingpin with a frozen heart, who erases the Tender Trio's early thug-life template with a psychotically itchy trigger finger. There's Benny, the grooviest hood in the slum, who attempts to retire from Ze's drug game and then there's the hood with my favorite moniker, Steak'nFries, all locked into a headlong dance of sex, drugs, and violence.
City of God is an unmissable cinematic triumph, peopled with affecting characters that avoid cliché, and a familiar story signposted with brutally shocking punctuation. Basing the story on real events and people, the makers employ a host of young non-professional actors residing in the slums where the story takes place, who perform a spectacular job under Fernando Meirelles' brilliant direction. Meirelles illuminates every frame of this fresh, ferocious and indelibly moving film that moves at whiplash velocity thanks to a terse script. He endows each chapter with powerful, uncompromising, beguiling and, sometimes, deceptive momentum. In a film of battering audacity, no shock hits harder than the way Meirelles choreographs murder to a dance beat, an exuberant form of kiddie recreation.
But for all of the story's violent subject matter, there is also much natural beauty to savor thanks to the dynamic cinematography that captures Brazil's magnificent landscape. Every aspect of the filmmaking exists as a virtuosic symphony of theme, character, context, and style. The style is all dazzle and in-your-face pizazz, quick titles, cuts, and digressions, split screens and smash zooms, while a remarkably complex story unfolds and the funky soundtrack grooves along - all that dazzle serves a purpose.
To watch 'City of God' is to become submersed in a hidden culture where life is cheap but the humanity is vibrant. It is a devastating epic about the roots of criminality and the ironic cruelties of life that also works as an intimate personal drama.
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
This One Fires the Flux Capacitor 'Back' Up - Straight 'to the Future'!
Back to the Future Part II begins where Part I left off, in 1985 at the Hill Valley home of teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, who is an absolute hoot in quintuple roles). Marty's scientist friend, Doc Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd, back again in his signature performance), has just arrived with dire news of the future. So Marty and Doc settle back in the time-hopping DeLorean (you know, the one with the flux capacitor) and the new film skips ahead thirty years to 2015, to find Marty's son, Marty Jr., getting in some trouble with Griff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), the grandson of Marty's 1955 nemesis Biff. This situation resolves itself fairly quickly, but not before old Biff steals the time machine to go back to 1955 and present his teenage self with a copy of a sports almanac that the young man uses to make himself a billionaire, turning 1985 into an altered hellish nightmare fantasy - Marty's dad is dead and Biff Tannen is married to Marty's mom, Lorraine. Marty and Doc, protected somehow from the effects of the change - though for how long, it's hard to say - head to 1955 themselves to stop Biff from changing the time-line. Naturally enough, this leads to both of them interacting, in potentially dangerous ways, with the plot of the first movie.
It says quite a lot about director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale's enduring strengths that what I just wrote makes absolutely perfect sense while you're watching it. And that all the jerry-rigged elements concocted at the end of the movie harmonize rather effortlessly with the original, turning casual gags into clever foreshadowing and building recurring motifs out of one-liners, while also providing a fine story that hangs together and is perfectly effective on its own. It's in 2015 that most of the whiz-bang awesomeness of the movie is found, not just in the staggeringly over-detailed production design - skateboards are replaced by flying hover-boards, the Jaws series is up to number 19 and the Chicago Cubs finally win another series - but in Zemeckis' embrace of technological gewgaws. The film knows just how, and when, to entertain us, and it does so in spades.
Zemeckis takes the sequel narrative and splices it into the intricate web of the first feature. The first two Back to the Futures ask a number of unresolved and unresolvable questions about causality, order, and intention; and taken as a pair, they're a hell of a lot of fun. That's what separates a top-drawer talent like Zemeckis from a routine hack: he can make an entertaining trifle meant to sell popcorn, and still infuse it with all kinds of structural inquiry.
Back to the Future Part II is simultaneously an entertaining follow-up to Part I and a tantalizing introduction to Part III - a giddily and merrily mind-boggling sci-fi fantasy.
Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett Don't Strike One False 'Note'!
In Notes on a Scandal, Judi Dench plays Barbara Covett, a spinster history teacher at a British public school, who narrates the story with tart, dolorous wit. A self-described "battle-axe", she is so ensconced by her own loneliness, so embittered by her inability to achieve intimacy with another human, that she has turned inwardly toxic. It doesn't help matters that she's a deeply closeted lesbian.
Barbara's newest obsession is the school's new art teacher Sheba Hart (Blanchett), whose wealth and magnificence are a draught of nectar to her own drab existence. Sheba excites Barbara's silent fascination and derision by wafting sexily about the place with her liberal-patrician attitude, her hippy-dippy idealism, and her remarkable beauty. Barbara, who keeps a copious diary of her thoughts and feelings, becomes increasingly delusional about Sheba, concocting a fantasy life for the two of them, imagining her to finally be "the one". Never mind that Sheba is married with two kids - as far as Barbara is concerned, she'd be better off with Barbara. When she discovers Sheba's sensational love affair with one of her students, it's an opportunity Barbara seizes with relish, as we see her moral outrage turn to narcissistic manipulation as she tries to conceal their secret.
Notes on a Scandal is about something deeply unlovely in human nature rarely explored by artists: the explosive combination of desire and social envy. The brilliance of the film's concept is matched by a powerful screenplay that proves to be a screen writing master-class from Patrick Marber who makes the subtleties obvious and sets up the story's twists and turns with unmistakable confidence. Director Richard Eyre, with unshowy authority, instills a mildly suspenseful quality to the movie, while imbuing it with enough restraint, pacing the proceedings with an eye for detail. The restraint successfully allows for several moments in which the characters erupt to be that much more jolting.
The movie's driving force however is Dame Judi Dench, who is an absolute powerhouse as the repressed, predatory lesbian. We know fully well that Barbara is a kind of monster, but from the moment she cynically sizes up the year's new crop of students - "Here come the local pubescent proles - the future plumbers and shop assistants, and perhaps there's the odd terrorist, too" - she has us. And in Dench's hands, Barbara never lets us go; the acerbic wit never fails. But her biting remarks are always tempered by the sense of her bitter sadness, which in turn is tempered by her moments of uncanny perception. It's a brilliant role and a brilliant performance - witty, hateful and heartbreaking all at once. But it doesn't exist in a vacuum; Cate Blanchett, is every bit Dench's equal, showing great range in moments that demand release of vulnerability and pent-up passion, delivering a harrowing performance as the unwitting target in a tragically fraught relationship. Together, they are an absolute delight! Bill Nighy as Sheba's cuckolded husband displays great range in a relatively small part.
Notes on a Scandal is a quintessential tale of twisted love, of festering secrets and emotional self-harm. Something so horrible and abject shouldn't be so compulsively watchable, and yet it is. Engrossing, bewildering, searing and shattering, this is a film that reverberates on every level.
Paper Moon (1973)
Paper Moon is Set In A Magical World that has Elements of Whimsy And Noir!
Peter Bogdanovich's 'Paper Moon' is everything a road movie is supposed to be - a life-changing personal journey, a quest, a bit old-fashioned and above all, a hoot.
The story is simple. Young Addie (Tatum O'Neal) finds herself orphaned with the death of her single - and apparently rather free-spirited - mother. The arrival of a man named Moze (her real-life father, Ryan O'Neal) at the funeral, provides the other mourners a chance to pack Addie off to her aunt in Missouri. Moze is reluctant to take her along, but sees a chance to blackmail some money out of the whole situation. However, his dreams of pocketing a windfall of $200 and sending Addie off on a train come to nothing - the wily young girl demands the greatly diminished sum that was meant for her care. As a result, he finds himself saddled with this grimly adult child (who is fairly certain that Moze is her father) as his assistant in a crime spree through the Midwest – a scam involving sale of overpriced Bibles to recent widows. In essence, Moze scans obituaries for gullible widows he can convince to pay the balance on Bibles their husbands "ordered" for them - deluxe editions with the names embossed in gold - before "passing on". Unsurprisingly, Addie is an adroit, if unruly, student, who upstages both his skill and daring.
Yes, 'Paper Moon' is about two con artists, but not really about their con, and that's a relief. The scam is only part of the story, which takes a number of turns before reaching its end - including Moze picking up a tart from a sideshow - a carnival dancer named Trixie Delight (a cheerfully trampy Madeline Kahn), who is accompanied by a long suffering black maid, Imogene (wonderfully played by P. J. Johnson) who later turns out to be Addie's partner-in-crime. Bogdanovich takes the con games only as the experience which his two lead characters share and which draws them together in a way that's funny sometimes, but also very poignant and finally deeply touching.
The film is shot in gorgeous black-and-white, giving it a documentary feel that meshes perfectly with the sweet cynicism of the characters. But what really underscores the film is amazing chemistry between the O'Neals. The fact they are father and daughter in real life helps flavor their working dynamic in an intriguing way. Tatum O'Neal is an absolute revelation - she spends much of the film with a sourpuss expression pasted to her adorable little pixie face, but breezes through the film with astonishing confidence. Ryan O'Neal's roguish charm is perfect for the character and the result, paired with his daughter, is a strong co-lead dynamic, in a tale about their delicate relationship that teeters on father-and-daughter quality without adopting the name.
A true treasure, Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon belongs to a magical world that has elements of whimsy and noir!
Captain Phillips (2013)
Paul Greengrass is Without a Doubt The 'Captain' of This Ship!
'Captain Phillips' opens in Underhill, Vermont, as our titular Captain Richard Phillips prepares to depart for Africa, bemoaning the elevated levels of competition that force him to take ever more dangerous assignments. He is the pragmatic captain of the Maersk Alabama, a freight ship tasked with transporting materials across Somalian waters. Cut to a beach in Somalia, where we are immediately engaged in a more cutthroat form of job competition, as penniless men offer meager bribes to gain employment as pirates. Here, we meet Muse, a violently ambitious pirate, who is seen as low on the totem pole of an assemblage of money-hungry pirates until he overpowers one of them physically, and then assumes leadership of the group. They observe ships on the water like hyenas waiting for one to wander from the herd, and when the Alabama's course takes it away from the primary formation, they seize an opportunity to pursue – and then capture – the ship for purposes of thievery. Phillips' attempt to prevent the hijacking is a failure, and four pirates, including Muse, manage to get on board with heavy artillery. And from that point of time, it's a splendidly mounted, nerve-racking thrill ride, building to an almost unbearably tense climax.
Captain Phillips is a prime example of Hollywood's unrivaled ability to rapidly reprocess a story from headline to marquee. Captain Phillips' aesthetic is vintage Paul Greengrass: cinema of the moment with a festering voyeurism so insular it barely seems to exist beyond the boundaries of the frame. He brilliantly employs his punishing brand of verisimilitude to immerse the audience in a situation that many wouldn't want to experience even vicariously. The script, adapted from the book written by the actual protagonist, is not romanticized or glossed over with overreaching sentiment, and Greengrass' direction matches it with a style that is consistently tenacious. From the first shot to the last, you feel that tremendous security you get when you are sure that the filmmaker is in total control of his material, as he mixes gritty realism with some stirring military ops for an edge of the seat piracy thriller.
The movie is anchored by performances as easily as it is by narrative details. The shy and unassuming Barkhad Abdi, steps into the role of Muse with sublime exactitude, and his eyes occupy a quality that suggests he isn't simply reciting dialogue; it's as if he believes he is participating in the conflict. Tom Hanks gives Captain Phillips a thoroughly human portrayal, convincing us how an ordinary man does extraordinary things in the face of death. He puts every ounce of his charm to good use but digs deep into a character with such raw and emotional fervency that there is little hint of us consciously accepting it as a mere performance.
Captain Phillips is a gripping, grueling, agonizing, brutalizing, kick-punching motion picture, but beyond the technical thrills and vise-grip tension, it also is a dynamite lesson of the human psyche.
'Trainspotting' is like Speeding Through The Digestive Tract of An Insatiable Beast!
Trainspotting is a rambling chronicle of high times in low company. By turns cheeky, surreal, exhilarating and stomach-churning, it follows assorted days in the lives of mangy Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor who is absolutely brilliant as the smart-aleck junkie) - a degenerate boil on society's backside - and the scabby crew of junkies, deadbeats, thieves, liars and nut jobs he calls friends. These characters are not duped by evil drug pushers, but consciously choose drugs over the banality of well, pretty much everything else. But these personalities, like the settings — bile green apartment walls and the blood red den of their dealer - are stylized and get a sudden and shocking reality injection straight after a catalog of hilariously catastrophic encounters. Renton tries to get his life back on the rails, but the nightmares of his past follow him even to London where he snatches despair from the very jaws of hope. Fittingly, he and his unwelcome flat-mates return briefly to their Edinburgh roots to bury another heroin statistic, before a coach trip back south for an amateurish, pathetic drug deal - selling rather than buying, for once, and for one last thrill. It all goes pear-shaped, naturally, and no one is surprised, because by now the message is sinking in: heroin is for losers!
But in the hands of Danny Boyle and the fantastic cast, it is possible to receive that message as an unprecedented and unrivaled piece of entertainment – it would be hard to imagine a movie about drugs, depravity, and all-around bad behavior more electrifying than Trainspotting. Though the bulk of the humor is blacker than a raven's wing at midnight, Boyle's sense of humanity persistently creeps in around the edges making the movie a singular sensation. While getting the squalor and degradation of the junkie lifestyle down to the last grotesque detail, he captures the stoned-out, gut-sickening experience of hardcore addiction with hallucinogenic acuity.
The film is peppered with harrowing sequences where you will find yourself trapped between a belly-laugh and a scream, as the characters rail, chuckle, shout and dive into darkness. Sample the scene where Renton loses some suppositories down a toilet in a squalid off-track-betting washroom and dives into the crud-encrusted porcelain after them, suddenly swimming through the clear waters of his opiated imaginings. Buoyed by a great Brit Pop soundtrack, agile cinematography and rich, earthy dialogue that gushes like a ruptured sewer, etching characters deeper than any laughter lines -''Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand, and you're still nowhere near it,'' reports Renton, describing his high – such scenes make the movie a searing pop-art portrait of a lost generation blowing out its brains.
All in all, Danny Boyle's Trainspotting is a blast of ice-cold water across a sweaty brow where the bleak subject matter is presented as a hilariously funny walk on the wild side, with no moral stance taken or punches pulled.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola Lays Bare "The Horror" of Combat!
With a famously horrific shoot, it's now almost unfathomable how Francis Ford Coppola managed to harness the chaotic energy into one of the most potent examinations of war and masculinity to ever grace celluloid in his masterpiece Apocalypse Now.
The story, based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, centers on Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), a US Army intelligence officer with a mission to travel into Cambodia and terminate the command of the renegade Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) - a colonel who went crazy and went native, forming his own Montagnard army out in the darkness of the jungle.. Needing to get back in the game, Willard takes the mission and finds himself among a motley crew. Nobody on the boat really understands the mission, least of all Willard himself, who keeps squinting at Kurtz's dossier and marveling at what a model soldier he was. Perhaps Kurtz hasn't gone rogue; perhaps he has simply achieved military apotheosis, carrying out the logical extension of the armed forces. Along the way he bonds with the crew of the boat taking him up-river as they encounter a gung-ho surfing Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), a sexy French woman, a few Playboy Bunnies, a free-wheeling journalist and more war-time horrors than they could have imagined, until he finally meets Colonel Kurtz. This epic dark fantasia ends on a rather elliptical note, which seems the only way for it to end.
'Apocalypse Now' is a confounding mix of the conventional and the surreal, a man-on-a-mission war flick that expands into a meditation. There is greatness to it, but there is also madness, and they feed off each other. From its opening scene of Capt. Willard falling apart in a Saigon hotel, the movie is a nightmare trip into the darkest reaches of the human soul. The depth and audacity of Mr. Coppola's vision makes even the most ambitious of today's films look timid and dreary by comparison. His direction is impeccable, capturing both the intimate detail, overarching spectacle and layered depth of meaning, often all in one shot and thus delivering a harrowing masterwork that bursts with malarial, mystical images. The movie is stunningly beautiful to look at, remarkably moving and horrific, and jammed with memorable characters in unforgettable situations. The score is wondrous, the production design solid and never overdone, and the cinematography is just wow.
On the acting front, Martin Sheen brings astonishing sincerity to Willard and is entirely believable as the cipher, the burned-out husk who's seen too much death to be at peace. Robert Duvall's brilliant turn as Col. Kilgore - a near-cartoonish hawk who lives and breathes war, rings with bracing energy. But the movie ultimately belongs to the maestro himself – Marlon Brando. In a role that has all off 15 minutes of screen time - most of which is spent mumbling in the shadows, delivering hipster rants about atrocities – Brando is extraordinary as the great bald shambling mountain, who both does and doesn't seem to be the monster we've been waiting for.
By any standard, Apocalypse Now is a masterpiece, a towering achievement of sight and sound - an epic freak-out, a fever dream of immense proportions, laying bare the stark horror and unimaginable thrill of combat.
King Kong (2005)
Peter Jackson's 'Return of The Kong'!
Peter Jackson is one of the few filmmakers who truly understands how to marry spectacle and emotion. In his remake of the 1933 epic 'King Kong', Jackson proves himself an unbeatable showman with the soul of a poet.
An opening montage introduces us to New York in The Great Depression, a time when former stockbrokers foraged in bins for half-eaten apples and a vaudeville actress like Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) might have to work as a painted lady in a burlesque if she is not to starve. She is spotted on the doorstep of her damnation by film producer Carl Denham (Jack Black). A corrupt cherubim sucking on bottles of whiskey for comfort, Denham has a devouring ambition that chows down on talent and money alike, and it is this drive to get his film made that lands him, Ann and writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) on a boat to remote Skull Island, the last unmapped spot on the face of the Earth. Before we get to Skull Island, the filmmakers stick to an intriguing, deliberate pacing, giving each character in the ensemble their grace notes, confident that as soon as the boat is drawn into the fog-bound hellhole, we will be spellbound. Sure enough, no sooner does the crew land on the island than the pure spectacle is unleashed - a cavalcade of thrilling sequences that includes the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch a Brontosaurus tumble off a cliff, and a brawl between King Kong and three Tyrannosaurs that sets a new benchmark for computer generated fight sequences. Throw in some enormous leeches and thousands of hectic creepy-crawlies, their moments of terror all masterfully choreographed by director Peter Jackson, and you have the meat of a rollicking B-movie.
The most arresting spectacle is the 30-foot-tall gorilla – the titular King Kong himself with a nasty disposition and a certain fondness for Ann. Kong is a miraculous feat of CGI wizardry, integrating seamlessly with his live action co-stars. Andy Serkis - a pioneer in the realm of motion capture performance - makes Kong's movements perfectly apelike, but there is just enough of an element of humanity to him. He feels real and he really feels.
Where the movie succeeds so brilliantly is by managing to treat the original material with respect without being overly reverent. The basic story is in place but Peter Jackson is not afraid to delve deeper into the characters in order to get the most out of the movie. The story is pure pulp and it is not difficult to find half a dozen plot holes. Yet, Jackson treats it with the utmost veneration and makes you believe by caring so much, it's contagious! He crafts and composes his action sequences like symphonies, with the most eye-popping crescendos. He also treats the romance between the beauty and the beast with so much love that you are left awestruck as you watch Kong's unreconstructed machismo rubs up against her feminine defiance to amusing effect.
This could well be called Peter Jackson's "Return of the Kong"!
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
This Delicious Satire on Edwardian Manners and Morals is Truly One of A 'Kind'!
Instead of the usual warm comedy, contemporary setting and familiar cast of lower-middle class worthies, 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' is set in the 1860s and shot through with pitch black humor and biting satire on both the moribund upper class and the grasping venality of the suburban middle class.
A waspishly poised Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini whose mother was cast out from the aristocratic D'Ascoyne family for marrying an Italian opera singer. After her death and a series of provocations from his estranged relatives - mainly their refusal to let her be buried at Chalfont in the D'Ascoyne family crypt, Louis embarks on a plan to murder his way into his inheritance, knocking off eight D'Ascoyne heirs (all played with great relish by Alec Guinness) one by one, in a series of wonderfully absurd set pieces - even polishing off one of his kinsmen, a windy general, by putting dynamite in his caviar. Louis only finds his match in his childhood sweetheart from the suburbs, the vulgar and scheming Sibella. Matters get complicated when he falls in love with Hobson, the widow of one of his victims. But after Price ascends to the dukedom and marries Hobson, fate catches up and something startling ensues.
In this delicious little satire on Edwardian manners and morals, the sly and adroit Mr. Guinness plays eight Edwardian fuddy-duds with such devastating wit and variety that he naturally dominates the film. He scores an eightfold tour de force as every member – young, old, male, female – of the D'Ascoyne clan, adding an additional masterstroke to the ruthlessly pitched satire about British imperialism backfiring on itself. He's aptly matched by Dennis Price as the Byronic anti-hero, who coolly undertakes a monstrous scheme of killing off all his kinfolk in order to succeed to the family coronet.
But don't let this obvious admiration for the leads obscure the fact that the picture itself is a sparkling, devilishly cutting jest. Robert Hamer's poised direction chimes perfectly with his Edwardian setting. He directs the script as a story being narrated as the recollections of a candid scoundrel - the Wildean wit of Price's voice-over an unfailing delight - and the whole development of the scoundrel's calculated career - in this case, of civilized murder - is described in the finest spirit of Gallic wit. Such a story of unmitigated contempt for the fundamental laws or society could only be tolerable when played as a spoof - a spoof on the highest level of cultivated humor and device.
The result, Kind Hearts and Coronets, is one of those films that can be seen repeatedly and still offer surprises. As a combination of rollicking black humor and satirical pokes at the English upper crust, nothing else comes close.