The soon-to-be-released King Kong has been No. 1 on my anticipated movie list since I heard Peter Jackson would be directing it. No one else I can think of has the fearless approach to filmmaking needed to turn 'King Kong' into a the powerful and meaningful movie it deserves to be. Forget the 1976 albatross of a remake, I knew Kiwi Pete would dive into this project beard-first, treating the story with the same weight as his Lord of the Rings movies. The other aspect I knew would work in the favor of a new 'Kong' was that, unlike many remakes, most audiences (especially younger ones) have not seen the original. Well, I have, and I'm here to tell you that it's more than just a giant ape which has inspired the biggest movie of the season.
Despite its startling special effects, the original 'King Kong' was made on a budget that was small even for 1933, about $600,000, and much of that was obviously devoted to the effects. As such, the first third of the film is almost maddeningly simple and ordinary, but the early scenes have a certain charm to them, because they lull you to sleep a little bit before 'Kong' turns on the afterburners for the rest of the movie. Though most of today's generation has not seen the movie, plenty know the story: director Carl Denham is off on a ship to find his next action picture, and all he needs is a dame crazy enough to be his leading lady, dame is offered to Kong, Kong likes dame, Kong taken to New York, escapes, finds dame and is killed from machine gun fire from bi-planes.
It's a simple enough story, but in my opinion what has made 'Kong' such a classic is what else happens on Skull Island. After Kong grabs his lady and heads back into the jungle, Denham and his crew follow and the audience finds much more than just a giant gorilla. The men ward off a stegosaurus, Kong has a brutal fight with a T-Rex, barely survives an encounter with a giant snake and even has to shoo away a pterodactyl who had eyes for his woman. It is in these scenes that the unflinching action and still-effective special effects come alive. When Kong fights the T-Rex, it is absolutely brutal, the action not the effects. The two beasts throw each other to the ground and the battle lasts a bit longer than you would think, with Kong triumphing after stretching the dinosaur's jaw until blood oozes out, leading to a wonderful shot of Kong playfully opening and closing his foe's jaws to see if it is really dead.
These effects were accomplished in 1933 and create a much different (and sometimes more effective) experience than many of today's effects. No matter how much money is spent on CGI effects, an audience always knows what they are looking at is fake. But the Kong effects can get away with more because the film is black and white and subsequently take on a much more physical quality, especially since Kong's fur constantly seems to be rippling (an unintended but highly successful byproduct of the animators' fingers constantly disturbing the rabbit fur that covered the miniature Kong).
The facial design of Kong is vital to the story, as the animators are able to present him with a playful, adolescent look moments after looking truly menacing. It's this youthful face that makes one scene truly memorable. Cut out of the original theatrical release at the request of censors, after Kong has scaled his mountain with his damsel, he delicately holds her and strips away a few layers of her dress, curiously examining each piece of this fabric he has never felt. As Kong peacefully strokes the curiosity in his hand, you genuinely believe that this 18-inch miniature ape model loves this woman, an emotion that is difficult to evoke even with today's CGI advances.
The best example of how CGI has 'ruined' some effects is one of my favorite action scenes of all time. In the classic King Solomon's Mines, there is a scene where our characters are trapped in a giant stampede, with literally hundreds and hundreds of all kinds of African creatures racing past them. There is a true sense of danger, because we know the animals are real. If this scene was ever attempted again, the animals would be born on computers and this sense of danger (which is sorely lacking in many of today's movies) would never exist. This same sense of realism is one reason why Kong has remained timeless.
The scenes of Kong escaping from the theater and scaling the Empire State Building are well-parodied and firmly entrenched in our subconscious, but many of the shots are truly striking. One in particular is when we first see Kong climbing the Empire State Building: instead of a closeup, director Merian C. Cooper wisely pulls far away from the action, showing us the surprisingly small silhouette of Kong inching his way up the building and in the background we see the terrifying shadows on the clouds of a fleet of attack planes heading for Kong. We know the ape's death is certain, but for a few seconds he gets to relive those minutes of bliss on his mountain when he sits undisturbed on the Empire State Building with his companion.
Initially it looks like Kong may be able to fend off the planes, but as their attacks become more precise, he looks at the blood pouring out of his chest and realizes he will not survive, until he finally tumbles off the side of the building. The genius of Kong's animation is that it is able to project these feelings of fear and love so that when he meets his doom, it becomes one of the very few monster movies where the audience is quietly saddened by the creature's demise.
It's easy to dismiss the original 'King Kong' as just another monster movie, but it is the scenes I mentioned above that I believe will be heightened emotionally and visually in Peter Jackson's version.
NOTES: One of the funniest parts of 'Kong' are some scenes that aren't included. After Kong is subdued with a smoke bomb and lays on the beach, Denham announces that they will put him on a raft and take him back to the ship. The next scene we see is 'King Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World' on Broadway. Ummm, how exactly did you get this 20-foot tall monstrosity into and out of a ship and then into the heart of Manhattan? The filmmakers probably had no idea themselves, and it's almost comical how they 'skip' those scenes.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Filed Under Classic reviews
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
The Wicker Man
One of the few cult movies that deserves more acclaim than it already garnishes, The Wicker Man is a deep, mysterious, smart and truly terrifying tale of religious tolerance that will stay with you long after the credits roll. The true beauty of 'The Wicker Man' is that its rich message and difficult themes are not smashed into the audience's face, rather they are gradually coaxed from the orange coals of curiosity and horror until it is literally a towering fire of macabre controversy during the final minutes.
'The Wicker Man' opens with Sergeant Howie arriving from the mainland of Scotland to the isolated island community of Summerisle. He is investigating a case of a missing girl, but he soon learns that this will be anything but a typical case. The alleged mother of the missing girl has no recollection of her and introduces Howie to her only child. Things continue to go south when Howie checks into his inn, as he observes a public orgie in the twilight and is seduced by a hypnotic spell from the inn's daughter.
Howie's by-the-book demeanor and God-fearing spirit is put to the test when he hears an adolescent class of girls being taught about how fallic symbols are everywhere, learns that the town is a giant Pagan contingent who worship the "old Gods," and when he meets Lord Summerisle himself, played by (who else?) Christopher Lee. Summerisle does not hide the fact that the missing girl is in fact dead, and he has his blessing to continue with the investigation, but warns him that he may not enjoy their traditional May Day celebration. Growing more and more suspicious and bewildered, Howie sneaks his way into the festival, when the true intentions of the populace (and the crime he is investigated) are revealed.
The theme of religious tolerance emerges early, as the Christian Howie is mortified at the practices in Summerisle. All of the island's inhabitants are clearly happy with their way of life, but Howie's staunch British values force him to question why they follow such a faith. This is why 'The Wicker Man' is still relavent, as all cultures will continue to ponder what is the 'right' religion to be a part of. But this advanced plot does nothing to take away from the horror-feel of this film, which reaches a stirring peak with its end that will leave you speechless.
Must see if you like dark/violent comedies
Starting in the mid 60s, the film industry became more and more liberal with its tabboos, with filmmakers continuing pushing the limits of what was acceptable on the screen. Prime Cut is a perfect example of how fast the industry changed. Made in 1972, just eight years earlier, it would not have been possible to make such a movie, especially in America. 'Prime Cut' was one of the first dark/violent comedies, which means it's not exactly packed with jokes, but the characters, situations and action make it funny in a disturbing/quirky kind of way. This genre today includes the likes of Pulp Fiction, Snatch, Kill Bill, Sin City and Layer Cake. 'Prime Cut' is just as violently zany and amusingly strange and kinky as the latter movies with a twist of midwestern hospitality and a smashing cast.
The opening scene of 'Prime Cut' sets the tone for the rest of the film, as we see a meat processing plant as the opening credits roll. By the end of this sequence it becomes apparent that the meat being transformed into sausage form is that of a very unlucky person. These sausages are sent from the Kansas City plant to the gang in Chicago who sent said unlucky person to retrieve their money. No, they are not joking. So the gang sends its resident hardass Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin, yes!) and some of his flunkies out of the city and into the country to get the money owed to them by cattle baron/mobster/asshole Mary Ann (Gene Hackman). His name really is Mary Ann, and best of all there's no attempt at an explanation of it either, the other characters don't even bat an eye when referring to this very scary man as Mary Ann.
But ole' Mary doesn't just sell cattle -- he sells flesh, as in human, as in prostitutes, as in slaves. Nick gets into Mary Ann's flesh auctions because the two go back a ways, and Nick takes a liking to one particular piece of flesh -- an unbelievably young and cute Sissy Spacek, in her first starring role. Spacek and Marvin make a good team, and they might just take down Mary Ann's whole operation, but not before feeding a limousene to a thresher, driving a semi-truck through a nursery, watching Gene Hackman nosh on tripe and setting more than a few orphans free.
Must see if you aren't afraid to be entertained and completely disgusted
The first shot in May is only about 0.8 seconds long, but it is 100% perfect and I don't think I've ever seen anything else like it. You don't really know what you've seen, but it sets up a terrifying scene at the end, so that you somehow know inside you what's coming next. It's the only possible way the ending could by any more horrifying. It also makes you wonder (around the one hour mark), just how the movie is going to get back to that first 0.8 seconds.
That's because 'May' is only a horror movie for the last 20 minutes or so, much like Carrie, which many will compare 'May' to. And the two are very similar. Both title characters carry the evil passed on to them from their mothers, and want oh-so-much just to be a normal girl with friends, even if that means spilling blood by the gallons.
You see, May is not your average girl. Her closest friend is a mildly disturbing doll made by her mother after May could not find any friends at school. It's housed in glass, and seems to control May from behind it at times. As May sinks further and further from reality, we hear the glass beginning to break, as the true side of May wants to get out.
It wasn't always bad, though. May met a guy at the laundromat (Jeremy Sisto), who professes that he 'likes weird.' Perfect. Eh, no you don't pal, not this kind of weird. After May shares with him some stories from her animal clinic workplace over lunch one day, he starts to think, 'maybe I'll give normal a try.' Sisto's character distances himself from May and soon she decides to give her mother's philosophy of 'making' a friend for herself a go. This has horrific consequences, as she adds a equal parts Frankenstein and Ed Gein to this troubling mix. Director Lucky McKee takes a bold gamble with the final shot, one most directors would never dream of with a serious movie like this. Does it work? If it had been more subtle, it would be perfect, but as it is it's a fitting ending to this outside-the-box horror tale.
One thought about the 'eye scene' that degraded it for me: YOU CANNOT CUT YOUR OWN EYEBALL OUT, at least not to the degree May did. The ocular bone protects the eyeball very well, that's why you don't hear about people's eyes falling out. It would be like trying to push a golf ball through a hole meant for a large marble, just wouldn't work. Sorry, my limited anatomical knowledge ruined that scene's shock value for me.
Filed Under Quick reviews
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Think back to that paper you wrote about Thanksgiving in fourth grade, it probably went something like this: 'Thanksgiving is a time when we give thanks for all we're thankful for, and I'm thankful that I can give thanks for the things I'm thankful for.' Yes, Thanksgiving is about everything that's good in life, but unfortunately, these movies are not. These are the films you walk out of in a dark mood, wanting nothing more than to sink your head into a jello mold and watch the final minutes of your life slip by in a gelatin reflection. Below are the ten movies best representatives from the genre you will not be giving thanks for, simply because thinking about them may cause you to start sobbing in your cranberry sauce.
10. The Bicycle Thief
This was a slow-burn movie for me. It wasn't until later that night that The Bicycle Thief really sank in and I had to explain to my future wife why I had spontaneously started crying. It's one of the better stomach-punch movies because it sneaks up on you, it lulls you into thinking this tale of a father and son searching for a bicycle that was stolen, a machine that will provide precious employment in post-war Italy, is nothing more than an entertaining example of neo-realism. But when the father reaches the end of his rope and steals someone else's bicycle, while his son watches him get hauled away, the tears start flowing grease drips off pizza.
9. Glengarry Glen Ross
After Alec Baldwin's ball-busting speech that opens Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet's script takes us into the filthy, smarmy, mean, back-stabbing and greedy world of desperate salesmen. In one of Jack Lemmon's all-time best performance's, he plays Shelly (known to some of you as 'Gill' on 'The Simpsons') who is the guy that calls you at 8 a.m. on a Sunday trying to get you to invest in some piece of property you're allegedly interested in. Shelly used to close sales, now he just sees closed doors. He's willing to do anything to get back in the game. He's worse than any used car salesman, he's your worst friend ... he's an asshole. And when he finds out his big sale is a sham, you'll find yourself quietly laughing.
You know when you're watching a Larry Clark movie, it's not going to be something that'll exactly perk your spirits about. Like Clark's Kids, Bully shows the viewer just how dangerous bored, naive teens can be. 'Bully' gives us end-all-asshole Bobby (a young and imposing Nick Stahl), who constantly torments his childhood friend Marty, ultimately to the point that Marty and Co. decide it's best to put him out of his misery. Their 'perfect crime' comes undone so easily and by the time they're all in court in-fighting while each of their long prison sentences are handed down, you find yourself covering your mouth much like the court audience in the movie. Most depressing part? It's based on a true story.
7. The Ox-Bow Incident
On the surface this is a dark western, but The Ox-Bow Incident is at its core an extremely liberal (for the time) indignation of lynching, which was still prevalent. When a small Nevada town gets word that a popular rancher was murdered and his cattle herd rustled, a band of 'justice' seekers set out to catch the band. They find three worthy-enough suspects in the mountains and convict them in the court of mob justice before stringing them up, just minutes before the sheriff rides up and informs them that they're all murderers. Damn! As Henry Fonda reads the letter a suspect wrote to his wife minutes before being executed, you find yourself wondering why you had to be born human.
6. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Almost any Sam Peckinpah movie could be included here, but I chose Alfredo Garcia is his most dark entry (probably because it was the only one without any studio interference). When a Mexican general puts a hefty bounty for the head of the man that knocked up his daughter, Bennie (Peckinpah stalwart Warren Oates, who else?) wises up, because he knows Alfredo is dead and he knows his hooker girlfriend will help him find the body. Lots of gut-wrenching moments here, like when Bennie and gal's romantic outdoor dinner is interrupted by bikers (one being Kris Kristofferson) who want to rape her, Bennie tries to be the hero for her, but is turned away because she's "been here before." Yikes. Did I mention for the last third of the movie, our hero totes around a fly-infested bag containing ole' Al's head?
5. Native Son
Few have seen this Oprah movie from 1986, fewer should have to. Native Son is the warming tale of Bigger Thomas, a do-good black teen from the slums of 1940s Chicago who tries to care for his family by getting a job as a chauffer for a wealthy family. He drives the daughter around a lot, one night she gets drunk and Bigger tries to keep her quiet in the house so her father doesn't scold her, but there's one problem: he inadvertantly suffocates her in the process. Whoops. Time to save his hide so he dumps her body in the house's incinerator. Of course the authorities wise up and find her bones, and young Bigger is sent to the chair while mother Oprah looks on. Ain't life grand?
4. Requiem for a Dream
I'm convinced that most heroin addicts aren't big movie or music buffs. Because if they had seen any good smack movies (The Basketball Diaries anyone?), or heard any of the seemingly hundreds of rock 'n roll songs about the horrors of the drug (Black Sabbath's Hand of Doom is a good one) I think they would be scared straight. But if I'm ever some kind of teacher, when it comes to drug education, I would just show them Requiem for a Dream, which depicts the thrills of hard core drug use in such a way that you're pretty much numb to the multi-pronged 'you can't unsee this' ending.
3. Last House on the Left
This doesn't make the list just because it tried to shock audiences with graphic depictions of violence (mostly against women), rather because once the completely ridiculous ending is finally over, you find yourself wondering why you just spent 90 mins of your life on such a terrible movie. No, Wes Craven's early effort is not one of the best horror movies of the 70s, it is just a very bad movie. Why does all the dialogue sound like something a 7th grader would write on their skateboard (yes, we realize she's a young woman, we don't need 5 lines in the opening 10 mins about her breasts), why does the supposed realism devolve into antics that would make Leslie Neilsen's eyes bleed (oh you're hooking that up to the doorknob so he'll get shocked, yes we all saw that on Tom and Jerry). You've been warned.
Let's be quite clear on something, only two movies have made me cry: The Bicycle Thief and the No.1 movie on this list. But only one movie has made me cry twice (also the number of times I've seen it), and that is Mask. Frankly, if you don't at least fake some tears at the end of this one, you're kind of an asshole. Come on people, sure he has a deformed head, but he's still a nice guy! Damn the only person outside of mom Cher's biker gang who treats him normally is a blind Laura Dern, and then her parents won't let her even talk to him! And come on mom, all he wanted to do was travel a little, couldn't you drop the loser boyfriends for a weekend before he dies! Oh, yeah he dies at the end, as if you didn't see that coming! Excuse me, it's getting dusty in here ...
1. Grave of the Fireflies
Now while Mask is a tearjerker, it is also a very good movie. The makers of Grave of the Fireflies appeared to have an agenda: to make the most sickeningly depressing movie ever. By the end you can barely see the credits through your tears, but you feel as if the filmmakers had you in a full nelson throughout the movie, hoping it will get tears out of you. And I realize Roger Ebert has given this his great movie treatment, but there was no enjoyment in this movie for me. This anime tale gives us two WWII orphans in Japan, who just watched their mother die from firebomb burns, and have to live with cruel relatives. They take their money and chastise the son for not working, even though he's like 7. So they move out and live in a cave, surviving on what big bro can steal. If you don't know by now what will happen at the end, I'll give you a hint: people (especially young children) need to eat.
Filed Under Lists
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
In Defense of 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'
I'll admit it: I'm an apologist. When people wanted Dennis Miller off Monday Night Football, I said his humor was misunderstood. When the new BMW 5-series came out, I was one of the few people who said 'it's still a BMW.' I only honk the horn on my car unless it's absolutely necessary. But when people say 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' is terrible and the worst of the series, I say 'WAIT ONE GODDAMN MINUTE!'
Before you repeat the same line to your screen whilst reading this post, another allowance: I view 'Temple of Doom' different than most people. I've been passionate about this movie since I first saw it at the age of 5 and was literally the first real movie I had ever seen. I remember the night vividly: my parents trying to hook up the VCR they had RENTED, the opening Paramount logo, and the gradual realization that not all movies were like Lady and the Tramp or The Song of the South (the latter a grave understatement). So I started out worshipping this movie, but I still believe that it does not deserve all the negativity that is consistently heaped on it.
But before we get to Apologist Frank's defense of one of his favorite adventure movies, let's look at what is working against 'Temple of Doom,' what makes it an easy target for criticism.
It's not 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'
Oh man, it is about as far from 'Raiders' as you can get. 'Raiders' is truly one of the greatest films of its era, with timeless stunts, memorable characters and an engaging and engrossing story. There was no way 'Temple' was going to top it, because the only greater treasure Indy could hunt for would be the Holy Grail (and who would want to make a movie about that?)
He's not saving the world
No, this is the only entry in the trilogy that does not include Nazis, nor does it have any enormous consequences if Indy does not succeed (sure it's talked about, but you never really feel any danger).
Kate Capshaw is in it
This is probably complaint No. 1 among 'Temple' bashers: Kate Capshaw is not funny, Kate Capshaw is annoying, Kate Capshaw cannot act. All three are popular battle cries when denouncing her role in 'Temple.'
OKAY FRANK, SO WHY DOESN'T IT SUCK?
Since you asked, I would be so kind as to point you to the above three bullets. It is these very three main complaints about the movie that make it one of my favorites.
WHAT? YOU LIKE KATE CAPSHAW?
Not exactly, but I understand why she's in the movie and who Lucas and Spielberg were thinking about when they wrote her part: Deborah Kerr in King Solomon's Mines. 'Temple' is at its core a tribute to the best moments in 'King Solomon's Mines,' using culture shock and an expedition through fabulous locales as a backdrop to the adventure tale. Willie Scott is Kerr's character in 'Mines,' the high society vixen comedically trying to cope with the outrageous elements around her. The most obvious nod to 'Mines' in fact is the give and take between Willie and Indy, which is nearly identical to the I-hate-you-no-I-love-you antics that Stewart Granger goes through with Kerr. But while Kerr wasn't exactly a dunce in 'Mines,' the popularity of dumb blonde characters in the 80s made it a no-brainer.
And while 'Temple' naturally must be compared (and subsequently knocked down a few pegs) to 'Raiders,' I welcome the drastic change in direction. Let's not forget that The Last Crusade is an obvious attempt to recreate the glory of 'Raiders' by using a similar story (complete with religious themes), thus making 'Temple' the true black sheep of the Indy family. But to me, that's what makes it so special. In the Indiana Jones world, his adventures with the Ark and the Holy Grail would be what he was known for, but his little adventure in India would be a story he would relay with a fellow archaeologist at a bar. Or maybe he wouldn't talk about it at all: he didn't have anything to show for it, and no one else was there besides Short Round a lounge singer from Missouri.
YEAH, THE KID FROM 'THE GOONIES' IS EVEN WORSE!
And yes, there are those misguided souls in this world who don't appreciate Short Round, which I will never understand. Sure his lines may be groan-inducing early on (but 'You call him Docta Jones, doll!' always gets a laugh out of me), but by the end, Short Round (or 'Mr. Round') is a perfect complement to Indy's physical comedy, especially in the mine scene when they are both fighting off adversaries (a wonderful shot where their punches are in synch) before Indy yells at him to 'quit playing around with that kid!' Also, Short Round's theme is second only to the main overture, it's a great melody that suits his character perfectly.
The aforementioned mine scene has to go down as one of the all-time best action set pieces of all time. Lucas and Spielberg cram every kind of stunt and effect into the last half hour of the film (including some of the best live-action miniature work ever seen with the mine chase), culminating in the signature scene of the movie.
You know what scene I'm talking about, in fact I've already written about it. But what I didn't mention in that post was the how the terrifying performance from Amrish Puri, who played Mola (or 'the heart-ripper-outter'). Puri, who died last year, was a giant in Indian cinema, known as Bollywood's Al Pacino. It's easy to see how he could have well over 200 roles to his credit when he shouts 'Stones will be found Doctor Jones ... You won't!'
OKAY, BUT YOU HAVE TO ADMIT IT'S AT LEAST THE WORST OF THE SERIES
Well it's certainly not better than 'Raiders,' but there's no way you can put 'Last Crusade' above it. 'Temple' does have its problems, but nothing like the at-times plodding pace of 'Last Crusade,' the near absence of any kind of villain (face it, nobody's afraid of Julian Glover) and the sometimes ridiculous lengths it goes for comedy (the Hitler bit is the most aggregious offender).
CAN YOU JUST GET IN ONE JAB AT THE 'TEMPLE' DIALOGUE?
It's not the best, and it does have one 'I know kung fu'-level quote: At the very end, when Indy returns the sacred rock to the village, its leader says 'Now you see the magic of the rock!' Harrison Ford then does his best cheesy smile and squinted eyes to show some kind of emotion and replies: 'Yes, I understand its power now.'
Filed Under Essays
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
You can ask me about my favorite food (eggs benedict), beer (Widmer), car (1997 Porsche 911 Turbo S, black), bad 80s song (St. Elmo's Fire), Simpsons episode (Homer the Vigilante), military aircraft (A-10 Thunderbolt), Henrik Ibsen play (A Doll's House), Madonna era (short hair, circa 'Cherish') or pre-war Heisman Trophy winner (Nile Kinnick), but I don't know how many more times I can hear 'what's your favorite movie?' without someone (possibly myself) getting hurt.
If not for one of my weaker moments in fourth grade when I responded to this question with RoboCop 2 (which offers a look into just how feelbe-minded I was at that point: putting RoboCop 2 above RoboCop), I cannot think of an instance when I could provide a singular answer to this query. It seems to be a prequisite for being a movie snob (hmm, good idea, more on that in a later post) that you have to list multiple movies in regards to this question. Why is it so easy to have just one favorite of the above categories, yet so sickenly far from one with movies?
It's also essential to note that this question refers to "favorite" movies, and not what I think is the "best" movie, of which I can easily say Citizen Kane. Yes, not the most original answer, but as you may have read, I qualify as a Kane Snob. With my favorite movies, I've never even been able to rank them, preferring rather to keep them to a listing of the 10 most essential movies to me. These films I can pop in at any time and watch, or sometimes need to pop them in, depending on my mood. I am incapable of putting one over another, as my affection for them usually runs in cycles (I always forget just how much I love Jaws). I am always afraid of some snob like me calling my essentials list 'predictable,' only because it would be semi-justified. There are some no-brainers on here, but also a few picks that might surprise some people. Now, in the interest of limiting this post to under 2,000 words, I will not go into full essay mode with these selections. I already have given this treatment to a couple of them, and more may be in the works.
Adam's Essential Ten (in no order):
The Third Man
Some of you may recall a small blurb I wrote about The Third Man in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as I immediately thought of the movie while watching images of the storm's aftermath. This thinking still holds true, as 'The Third Man' is all about the way people react to destruction around them: some continue to live their lives, some crumble like the buildings around them and a few take advantage of the situation. All three of these types collide head on in this 'they don't make 'em like that anymore' thriller/mystery/romance on the streets of post-war Vienna.
This is Spinal Tap
It's rare that you can still laugh at a comedy during the 44th viewing of it, and even rarer that you laugh harder on said viewing than the 43rd viewing. This is Spinal Tap is just this movie for me. I can never make it through Marty DeBergi saying 'they are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry' without busting up, same goes for 'what's wrong with being sexy?' Then there are the little visual touches that garner even more laughs, such as the few shots in the background of the early interview that show that Tap's castle is probably little more than a set from a high school Hamlet production. I'll never tire of watching this.
The Last of the Mohicans
I touched on my favorite scene in 'Mohicans' in an earlier post, and it's a great example of director Michael Mann's range. He may have been accused of over-using the downtown setpieces he has made famous over the years, and certainly quashed that theory by going back to one of the classics. Mann's unique lens just makes this ageless tale look and sound unlike anything else. He utilizes extended closeups Leone-style to great effect and uses the wilderness setting as almost another character (which he does masterfully with his L.A. movies as well). The last 20 minutes still floor me. Nearly perfect.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Even with the big budgets and endless CGI shots of today's Hollywood, a better adventure film will never be made. The Great Escape is usually handed this title, but nothing in that film can match the pace, boldness, ferocity and suspense of The Bridge on the River Kwai, whose plot is a dizzying tower of equal parts loyalty, revenge and courage raised to levels that approach stupidity. Through flawless timing and execution, 'Bridge' builds (pun intended) the most suspenseful climax of any movie, ending with one of the most emotional and entertaining payoffs possible.
Alfred Hitchcock was of course known for producing scares, but his best skill was portraying the emotions produced by entrapment and desperation, two of the most common themes in his films. Vertigo is the best example of both, as Hitchcock produces a love story equally twisted as it is tantalizing. The story is so rich I won't even begin to describe it, but what I can gush about is the still wondrous visuals Hitchcock creates, which have a luminescent quality usually reserved for dreams and are graced by Bernard Herrman's most haunting and timeless score. 'Vertigo' draws me in every time, I can't leave it off the list.
I just touched on this (not gonna link it, just scroll down dummy) and Dark City is one flick that I find myself liking more every time I pop it in. One note to add to my previous post about it is the brilliant 'Shell Beach' theme, which acts as the beacon that keeps the city's inhabitants going about their daily 'lives.' Somehow, some way they'll get to Shell Beach. The people in the city are able to live like they once did because there was a Shell Beach for them at one time, and they're still trying to find out how to get there.
The Night of the Hunter
I'll always stand by the fact that Robert Mitchum's Harry Powell is the most terrifying character ever put upon audiences. With 'LOVE' and 'HATE' tattooed across his knuckles, Powell is able to slither into people's trust through the guise of a do-good preacher. Yet he also believes that God is standing by all his killings, doing the Lord's work for him. It's Mitchum's performance that creates an air of madness in The Night of the Hunter, ratcheting up the suspense with every passing minute. 'Hunter' also contains a number of haunting scenes that you'll never forget, and one that may be my all-time favorite (watch for the fish hook).
Yes, the easy choice, but I can't leave it off. Citizen Kane, outside of its mountain of accolades, remains one of the best combinations of every kind of film genre. It literally has it all, including visuals and editing techniques that forever changed Hollywood. It's still easy for me to put 'Kane' on any time and watch it through. I talked about one of my favorite moments in 'Kane' in a previous posting.
I still feel Jaws is a very under-valued film. Before its release, the fear of sharks that everyone has today was almost non-existant. You can only imagine how scarier 'Jaws' was to audiences in 1975 who had little knowledge of the dangers of sharks. But the suspense still holds up today: the underwater scene with the head (maybe the top 'jump' scare of all time), a swimmer's detached leg gracefully descending to the ocean floor, the way the Orca fills with water so fast and starts to sink. I can't watch the Orca scenes (nearly a separate movie) without feeling like a complete wuss, and I love every minute of it.
The newest addition to the list. When I went back and saw it for a second time the day after it came out, I knew it had to be included. While it's definitely not for everyone, it is for me. The cast is simply perfect (Rutger Hauer!?!), the visuals are ground-breaking and the violence is suitably out of this world. Part of the reason I appreciate Sin City so much is how absurdly difficult I know it should have been to port the comic books to the big screen. Take a look at some of Frank Miller's work and you'll see why he's listed as co-director, because the film is literally a shot-by-shot remake. Can't do without it, and cannot wait for the sequels.
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