The Bridge On The River Kwai (7/24/12) &(9/20/12)

Bridge on the River KwaiMovie One Hundred Seventy Four and Two Hundred Fifteen

A group of British POWs are held by the Japanese during World War II and forced to build The Bridge On The River Kwai.

During World War II, after Singapore’s surrender, a group of British troops are led to Thailand as Japanese prisoners and put to work on the railway to Burma and building a bridge over the River Kwai. Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness) is at odds with the Japanese Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) over officers having to do the same amount of work as the privates and Saito refuses to back down, putting Nicholson in “the oven” without food or water. Unwilling to compromise, upon his release from the oven, Nicholson decides to cooperate and build the bridge as a sign of British ingenuity and loyalty for years to come. Nicholson pushes his men hard to complete the bridge, unaware of the plot to blow up the very bridge he has committed himself to.

The Bridge On The River Kwai is a fantastic war epic from David Lean that is fictionalized but historically rooted. Never having seen the full movie in one straight shot, I was worried that the long run time (161 minutes) would bog things down or would create a plot that would be hard to follow. While the film is largely a slow boil, the last 30 minutes or so are incredibly tense and fly by. Amazing performances and direction really help with the pacing of The Bridge On The River Kwai, much like David Lean’s other famous epic, Lawrence of Arabia, which is even longer.

One thing I have to point out is how terrific the blu-ray of The Bridge On The River Kwai looks and sounds. Many consider blu-ray to be a format only for cutting-edge special effects films, but this is a shining example of a restored 55 year old film can bring to the format. The picture is, in a word, stunning. The package as a whole matches the picture. For a non-Criterion/Masters of Cinema release, the care taken here is obvious.

While certainly not for everyone, The Bridge On The River Kwai is a unique war movie with a great cast, interesting plot, superb direction. The runtime is certainly a hurdle, but I thought the time flew by after the first 45 minutes or so. The Bridge On The River Kwai certainly worth a shot and once viewed, it’s sure to be a favorite.

[Update]

I was lucky enough to see Bridge on the River Kwai again, this time on the big screen. While I quite enjoyed the film the first time around, seeing it again while it was still fresh in my mind made me realize how amazing the film really is. While I still thought the first 30-45 minutes felt long, I understood everything much better this time around. The motivations, the unsaid megalomania, the setting; it all made perfect sense and goes to show what an excellently crafted film Bridge on the River Kwai really is. The theatrical transfer was actually disappointing compared to the blu-ray for at least 20 minutes, it was very grainy but in-focus, and then it was almost like wiping the mirror after a hot shower. The film shone brightly and put the fantastic looking blu-ray to task.

Note that I will be upgrading my score from a 4 to a 5 after this second viewing.

I give it 4real bridges on the River Kwai out of 5.

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My July Movies Round-Up

July was a weird month for me. I really thought that I had been slacking in my movie watching and had been falling behind, but apparently I watched a lot of stuff! I’m definitely on track to reach my goal of watching 300 movies before January 1st but I’ve got to stay focused.

For August, I’ve really been thinking of digging into my personal backlog of purchases. My unwatched (sometimes unopened) Criterion blu-rays alone could keep me occupied for most of the month. We’ll see how that goes, it’s usually easier just to see what’s on Netflix Instant…

July movies watched:

  1. Ted
  2. Jeff, Who Lives At Home
  3. Moonrise Kingdom
  4. Pulp Fiction
  5. Sword of the Stranger
  6. White Wilderness
  7. The Rum Diary
  8. The Battle of Algiers
  9. Cold Sweat
  10. Being John Malkovich
  11. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  12. A Clockwork Orange
  13. Thief
  14. 400 Blows
  15. Goodfellas
  16. High Fidelity
  17. Batman Begins
  18. North By Northwest
  19. The Dark Knight
  20. The Dark Knight Rises
  21. The Grey
  22. Bridge on the River Kwai
  23. Bottle Rocket
  24. The Only Son
  25. Shadows and Fog
  26. (500) Days of Summer
  27. Jurassic Park III

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Jurassic Park III (7/31/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Nine

Jurassic Park III has some familiar faces traveling to a different island, but one that is also inhabited by a plethora of prehistoric wildlife.

While para-sailing near Isla Sorna, a sister island to Isla Nublar from the original Jurassic Park, with his stepfather, young Erik Kirby (Trevor Morgan) gets detached from the boat and has to land on the island. Back in the US, Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) is still working with dinosaurs and has gained some notoriety for his adventures during the first film. When approached by Mr. (William H. Macy) and Mrs. (Téa Leone) Kirby and promised a huge paycheck under false pretenses, their crew lands on the island for a rescue mission. Obviously the dinosaurs are not pleased by the new visitors.

Make no mistake, I know Jurassic Park III is a pretty bad movie but ever since I was really little, I’ve loved dinosaurs. Jurassic Park III‘s subtitle may as well be “let’s see how many dinosaurs we can cram into this thing” because at every turn there’s a dinosaur. The plot is paper thin and the film kindly asks you to disregard using any logic in what it’s showing you, but dinosaurs, man! DINOSAURS!

While it’s a totally unnecessary sequel that was an obvious cash grab and scheme to sell toys, Jurassic Park III at least brings back Dr. Grant and Ellie Sattler and it tries its best to form a continuation of the characters after the events of the first two films. The upcoming 4th film in the Jurassic Park series may be even more of a cash grab, turd of a film, but I’ll still probably see it. The magic of this film isn’t that it tries to be as good as Spielberg’s films, it’s that it knows that people love dinosaurs and expands on it.

The production values are actually fairly high Jurassic Park III, the special effects notably. I hadn’t watched the film in awhile and was thinking the CGI dinos could end up looking like SyFy’s incredibly crappy movies but they look realistic. There is actually a scene in a river with the main “villain” dino, the spinosaurus, and they use an animatronic instead of CGI and the CGI versions look more alive.

If you go into Jurassic Park III wanting a dumb, dinosaur-mauling good time then I think you’ll be pleased. Thinking Jurassic Park III is anything more than that will likely disappoint.

I give it 3 real-life spinosaurus skeletons out of 5.

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(500) Days of Summer (7/31/12)

(500) Days of SummerMovie One Hundred Seventy Eight

A man and woman’s entire meeting, friendship, relationship, and breakup are detailed during the (500) Days of Summer.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works at a greeting card company when one day, he sees the girl of his dreams, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). Instantly in love, Tom makes it his mission to be with Summer and over time, the two become friends. Summer is reluctant to be in a relationship, but her and Tom become more than friends. After their breakup, Tom seeks advice from his best friends and younger sister, Rachel (Chloe Grace Moretz) on what to do. The story is told in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth between the stages of Tom and Summer’s entire relationship.

According to the omniscient narrator, (500) Days of Summer is not a love story, simply the story of “boy meets girl” and since we know from the start that Summer and Tom break up, I suppose that is true. I strongly hesitate to call this a romantic comedy and while it does have the necessary elements of a rom-com, it is decidedly not a “chick flick”.

Had this film been made in the 80s, Tom would have almost certainly been played by John Cusack but Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an admirable job. Zooey Deschanel plays her usual cute, quirky self here but since this was the movie that kind of put her on the map, she is a bit more subdued than she is in that annoying Apple commercial. I think all of us have known girls like Summer, perhaps even dated one and I certainly can relate to Tom (though I wish I had his sense of dress). Having such a funny, realistic story really makes (500) Days of Summer a really enjoyable film.

Marc Webb, who recently directed the Amazing Spider-Man, is at the helm for (500) Days of Summer and his style works brilliantly with the characters and the drawings done on screen. The way the story plays out and the title card animations indicating the number of day reminded me a bit of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a connection I hadn’t made before but Eternal Sunshine is fresh in my mind now. Since relationship movies are practically a dime a dozen, when one stands out, it’s usually a good thing. (500) Days of Summer has the right amount of kitsch, humor, and sadness to make it memorable even if you don’t care for Zooey Deschanel.

I give it 4 life becoming arts out of 5.

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Shadows and Fog (7/27/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Seven

In Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog, there is a serial strangler on the loose and a bookkeeper gets caught up in the town’s madness.

A vigilante mob on the search for a strangler wakes up Kleinman (Woody Allen) to help them track the killer down. Outside of town, a group of circus performers is staying. Irmy (Mia Farrow), a sword-swallower,  and Paul (John Malkovich), a clown, are having a dispute which causes Irmy to travel into town for a place to stay. She finds herself in a brothel, and after receiving $700 from a young patron (John Cusack), she is arrested. Kleinman is also at the police station and as the two are leaving, they become close to avoid any danger from the strangler still on the loose.

Woody Allen pays homage to German Expressionism in Shadows and Fog and apparently it was a huge miss with audiences and many critics. I found myself quite taken with Shadows and Fog, partly because of the star studded cast but also because of the natural comedy from having Woody Allen in a noir-like setting. On the surface, this is not a typical Woody Allen film but it’s definitely a Woody Allen film, it’s just in a different wrapper.

When I first heard of Shadows and Fog, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I imagined a serious film where Allen completely steps out of his comfort zone and does something totally unexpected. This isn’t the case, however, despite having a dark feel, having Allen injected into the film’s world significantly changes the tone. This is what makes Shadows and Fog so confusing. It’s clearly an homage to films like M, but Allen keeps you laughing more than worrying. I understand why Shadows and Fog was one of Gene Siskel’s picks for worst of the year, but I also found myself enjoying it.

As one of Allen’s most expensive pictures, Shadows and Fog was a huge flop at the box office and it seems to be fairly unknown from what I can tell. I’m not sure who the target audience should be for a film like this and I’m finding it difficult to even recommend it outright. I will say that I enjoyed watching Shadows and Fog because I was keen to try something new from Woody Allen.

I give it 4 Third Man tributes out of 5.

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The Only Son (7/27/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Six

The Only Son is a film about a mother who sacrifices everything for her son’s education and visits him as an adult.

In a small rural Japanese town, widow Tsune (Chôko Iida) is raising her young son Ryosuke. When Ryosuke wants to continue his education into middle school, Tsune is persuaded by teacher, Ookubo (Chishû Ryû), to let him continue. Tsune sacrifices everything financially in order for Ryosuke to make his way through college. In return, all she asks is that Ryosuke grow to be a great man. Years later, Tsune visits Ryosuke (Shin’ichi Himori), who has a family of his own but struggles financially as a night-school teacher, much to his mother’s disappointment.

Earlier this year, I watched a film by Yasujirô Ozu that many consider his finest work, Tokyo Story. That was my first foray into Ozu’s work and I was blown away by the simple story could be so captivating and heart-wrenching. I am pleased to say that The Only Son is also a great film that seems entirely too simple but is so finely crafted that it accomplishes more with very little than most movies could ever hope to. With only a handful of actors, realistic dialog and totally static cameras, The Only Son almost feels like a documentary of a family that doesn’t know they are being filmed.

The magic of Ozu’s films is their simplicity and the emotions they are able to convey. The Only Son makes you want Ryosuke to succeed. You sympathize that this poor woman has literally given up everything to her name in order for Ryosuke to have success in life and while he has a loving wife and young baby, he is not doing the best of his ability in his career. Some of you may be wondering why the importance is placed on a financially successful career being the marker for having a successful life, and I would agree to a point but you have to put yourself in Tsune’s shoes. She is a widowed single mother who becomes homeless, scrubbing floors in a factory, all so her only son can become something great.

I’m sure there are many cultural meanings in The Only Son that I am not picking up on since I am not Japanese, nor do I know what their culture was like in 1936. The film gives little insight into these aspects, but it largely makes no difference since the family themes are universal and timeless. Since I am still new to Ozu, I feel compelled to watch as many of his films as possible because they are so moving and human. The Only Son is his first talkie, but it has held up incredibly well.

I give it 4 scenes from the cover art out of 5.

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Bottle Rocket (7/26/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Five

Bottle Rocket follows a trio of friends that plans a series robberies and then goes on the run.

At the start of the film, Anthony (Luke Wilson) is voluntarily staying at a mental hospital for exhaustion. His friend, Dignan (Owen Wilson), plans to break him out of there, not knowing Anthony is there voluntarily. Dignan then tells Anthony about his 75 year plan, which involves a series of robberies and to meet up with Mr. Henry (James Caan). They include their friend Bob (Robert Musgrave) on the plan as their driver. The three steal a small sum of money from a bookstore and then go on the lam, staying at a small motel. Anthony ends up falling in love with one of the housekeepers, Inez (Lumi Cavazos). Upon returning home, they meet up with Mr. Henry for another big heist that doesn’t go to plan.

While I realize the description of the film sounds kind of dark and action-packed, this is a Wes Anderson movie. His first full-length film, actually. Fans of his work will recognize many of his signature touches in the soundtrack, the characters, the dialogue, and the editing, but his style has certainly been refined over the years. Whereas Moonrise Kingdom has all of Anderson’s touches pushed to their limits, Bottle Rocket seems very subdued in comparison. Some may consider this a good thing but I personally prefer Anderson’s later work.

The Wilson brothers (the lesser-known Wilson brother, Andrew, also has a small role) are  in their feature debut too and it’s actually refreshing to see them so young. I’m not much of a fan of Owen Wilson, who also co-wrote Bottle Rocket with Anderson, but as Dignan he is likable. The plot meanders a lot but it’s not necessarily a fault so much as its a quirk. I can certainly understand why it would be off-putting to some, but the showcase here is more on the characters and their adventure rather than the adventure itself, that’s just how Anderson’s films are.

Fans of Anderson will no doubt enjoy Bottle Rocket but I would be surprised if it ranks high on the ‘favorite’ lists of many. While it’s not a bad film, Anderson has clearly grown as a writer and a director, even for his sophmore film, Rushmore. If you are new to Wes Anderson’s films, I would recommend starting with another film (personally, Moonrise Kingdom is my favorite) and then work your way through the rest of his catalog. Bottle Rocket is fun and enjoyable but doesn’t always feel deeper than the short film it’s based on.

I give it 3 “why is there tape on your nose?” “exactly!”s out of 5.

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The Grey (7/20/12)

The GreyMovie One Hundred Seventy Three

In The Grey, a group of oil-men fight for their lives in the frozen wilderness after their plane crashes.

John Ottway (Liam Neeson) works at an Alaskan oil rigging site to protect the team from wolves attacking. One evening, he sends a letter to his wife that he is going to kill himself, but as he attempts suicide his gun doesn’t fire. After the oil-men finish their job, they are heading home via plane when it goes down. Ottway quickly takes charge of the situation and as wolves begin to kill the men for territoriality, the team decides to make the trek to survive.

The Grey is not at all what I expected, even after reading several reviews about it. I think many people (including myself) originally wrote The Grey off as “Taken…With Wolves!” but other than Neeson playing a steely killing machine, The Grey is nothing like Taken. The vast majority of the film is a survival picture. Even the wolves take a backseat to this, though they are a critical part of the survival element.

While I found parts of The Grey entertaining and interesting, a lot of it kind of bored me. I didn’t care one iota about the team of oil-men that survives the crash and the film really wants a few of them to have touching death scenes. One scene in particular, when a man is dying and Ottway tells him that he is dying and soothes him made me feel next to nothing for the dying man because I had no idea who is was. It’s almost as if the entire supporting cast is less ensemble and more Ottway-bolsterers since he is really the one character the film focuses on. The Grey does succeed in making Ottway a neat character, though.

Since most people think the film revolves around the wolves, I will say that the CGI used for the wolves is uneven. At times, it seems like The Grey almost wants to become a horror movie, after all, aren’t most horror movies survival movies? It’s also very strange that all these men that had been living in Alaska seemed unaware wolves even existed. Many of them clamor about how big they are and they seem totally unaware they are territorial animals that can easily kill a man. Also, Ottway is basically Muldoon, the raptor keeper, from Jurassic Park explaining to these fools what wolves are capable of.

I enjoyed watching The Grey, even though I wasn’t as emotionally invested as the film seems to require. There are moments of greatness here, and a revelation near the end made a pretty solid impact, but the survival story and the men doing the surviving falls a bit flat. I realize I may seem a bit harsh on The Grey, but perhaps I was just expecting something more out of it. The parts I did like were actually great, but it gets bogged down by its own story. The Grey is certainly worth a watch but I don’t think it will be film I return to.

I give it 3 much more awesome French posters out of 5.

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The Dark Knight (7/19/12)

The Dark KnightMovie One Hundred Seventy One

The Dark Knight continues Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as Batman faces his nemesis, the Joker.

The Dark Knight begins with an elaborate bank heist orchestrated by the Joker (Heath Ledger). Gotham has a new DA in Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who vows to clean up organized crime along with his assistant DA, Rachel Dawes (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman (Christian Bale) decide to trust Dent. The Joker disrupts an organized crime meeting between several factions and essentially controls the city’s underworld. After Dawes and Dent are placed at separate locations with lots of explosives and a timer, Batman saves Dent but he is disfigured. Joker turns Dent against himself he vows revenge for losing Rachel. Batman must now figure out a way to stop Joker and also deal with the newly formed Two-Face while still remaining the hero that Gotham deserves.

It turns out that writing an abbreviated plot outline for The Dark Knight is much harder than I anticipated. A lot of things happen in the film that the 150+ minute run time can attest to. The second part of  Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, many consider The Dark Knight to be the pinnacle of the series. I attribute this largely to his brother, Jonathan, who helped write the script for the film. Everything in this film is there for a reason and a pretty damn smart reason, too. Further diving into the “realistic” world of Batman, The Dark Knight created one of the greatest villains ever on screen in the Joker. The fact that Joker is only a portion of the plot here is remarkable.

When The Dark Knight was released, it contained several scenes that were shot for IMAX screens and this was the first IMAX film I saw that truly blew me away. While it’s always a thrill to see a bigger, louder version of a film in theaters, when something is built specifically for IMAX it shows. Even a lesser film would have been breathtaking if shot like this, but from the very opening shot for the entire film it grabs you and doesn’t let up. As I said about Batman Begins, The Dark Knight is not only an amazing superhero movie, it is simply a great movie.

If Batman Begins put Christopher Nolan on the map for many people, then The Dark Knight solidified his position as a great filmmaker. The Dark Knight is difficult to fault and is something that I could easily recommend to everyone.

I give it 5 “you complete me”s out of 5.

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North By Northwest (7/18/12)

North By NorthwestMovie One Hundred Seventy

North By Northwest tells the tale of a case of mistaken identity leading to a kidnapping by international spies.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for George Kaplan after paging a bellhop who is paging Kaplan. Two thugs take note and force Thornhill to the estate of Lester Townsend by a man impersonating Townsend named Philip Vandamm (James Mason). After questioning and Thornhill’s refusal that he is Kaplan, they fill Thornhill with liquor and send him on his way over a cliff. Instead, Thornhill, who is extremely drunk, drives away and gets picked up by the cops. When no one believes his story, Thornhill decides to track down the real George Kaplan to get to the bottom of things. He soon finds himself on the run after another case of mistaken identity and becomes involved with a young woman named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who helps him escape capture only to land him in more trouble.

North By Northwest is very much an Alfred Hitchcock film. It has everything we’ve come to expect from the master of suspense and it could easily be argued that North By Northwest is one of his finest films. Cary Grant absolutely shines on screen and can be charming and funny no matter what. The rest of the cast is good, especially Saint, but Grant is undoubtedly the star here.

I actually got the opportunity to see this in theaters, in the same summer series as A Clockwork Orange, and unlike that film, North By Northwest looked and sounded like it had been carefully restored for the big screen. Unfortunately for me (and the rest of the theater) the experience was marred by a group of cackling idiots near the front of the theater that shrieked and bounced up and down during most of the film. Scenes that were not meant to be funny were laughed at and tense scenes were marred by their outbursts. They were clearly enjoying themselves but it was incredibly irritating. If you’re wondering, we didn’t get a manager because they weren’t doing anything wrong, per se, they were just irritating people. As a public service announcement, please remember that a crowded movie theater is not your living room.

Alfred Hitchcock’s films catalog is vast and it would take ages for one to watch all of his films. It would be hard to even just recommend one film of his to watch, let alone several. North By Northwest is a film that should be viewed both because it’s a Hitchcock film and because it’s a beautifully crafted thriller.

I give it 4 missed the bus moments out of 5.

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