Sunday, February 17, 2013

288. Les Maitres Fous

Les Maitres Fous
The Mad Masters
Directed by Jean Rouch

I am really not sure what I just watched.  It was only a half hour, so it went by pretty quickly.  So what follows is a short, confused review of a short and confusing film.

This is a documentary (that is the only way Rouch could have gotten away with showing these images in 1955) that shows the Haukas performing a ritual that supposedly allowed them to become possessed by their colonial oppressors. This ritual consists of them foaming at the mouth and doing something I don't want to talk about with a dog.

I am pretty sure that this is mostly fictionalized.  Whether or not it is, it still represents the exotic, tribal stereotype that is both racist and offensive.  On the other hand, the tribe is mocking the Europeans, which can be seen as offensive to white people.  So insults all around!

Gross and nothing in terms of plot; I really don't know what the point of that was.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

Banned in Niger and Ghana.

287. Bad Day at Black Rock

Bad Day at Black Rock
Directed by John Sturges

This is a really interesting film; unfortunately, most of my interest comes from the ending, so I can't explain fully why I like it so much without there being major spoilers.  So I will content myself with saying what I can, and you can see it for yourself to understand what makes it such a great movie.

Spencer Tracy, a one armed man, comes to town but the people of the town are openly hostile to him.  Why?  Watch and find out!

This is a great mystery that keeps you guessing until the end.  The ending is a shocker and actually quite relevant to today, but again, no spoilers. Spencer Tracy is a great hero, he can be righteous without being annoying.

I realize this review kind of sucks but this movie is strongly recommended.  Trust me!  When have I ever steered you wrong?  Second thought, don't answer that.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

One of the most frequently watched films in the White House.

The main character was originally not going to have a disability.  However, the studio wanted Spencer Tracy and figured that no actor could resist playing a handicapped character.

Spencer Tracy originally wanted to back out of the film.  The studio told him that Alan Ladd would replace him and he agreed to do the project.

286. Pather Panchali

Pather Panchali
Song of the Little Road
Directed by Satyajit Ray

Here's another movie that I highly doubt you have heard of.  I wouldn't recommend, though.  It is so depressing it gives Japanese cinema a run for its money.

This is the story of Apu, whose family is extremely poor.  His father tries to make enough money to support them, but never seems to succeed.  People die, family members are abused, and sobbing ensues, both from the characters and from me.

One thing I will say for this film is that it really is beautiful.  Each shot is so breathtaking that I think if it was in color my head would explode.  The acting is also great, which is something I would not have expected from a little boy and an extremely old lady.

Now for the flaws.  I feel like it is depressing just for the sake of being depressing.  Nothing good ever happens and while I suppose that could pass for realism, I just didn't take much out of it.  The lesson seemed to be that poor people's lives suck and then they die, which is a very unoriginal, unhelpful point.  Still, a beautiful film.

RATING: ***-- (got to give it that for the scenery)

Interesting Facts:

Time Magazine named it one of the best films of all time.  Woah, there.  Calm down.

Ran out of money halfway through filming, was loaned the rest by the government.

Friday, February 15, 2013

285. Guys and Dolls

Guys and Dolls
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

So we go from the worst to the best with this delightful musical.  When I first saw that Marlon Brando was going to be singing and dancing, I was understandably frightened.  But this is the best film I have seen in awhile; it was simply magnificent.

I had never seen any production of Guys and Dolls so I really had no idea what to expect.  Most people are probably familiar with the story but I will bore you all with the summary anyway.  Frank Sinatra bets Marlon Brando that he could not get the hot Christian dame to come to Havana with him.  Brando takes the bet, but as in all romances, he gets more than he bargained for!

This film is completely flawless.   In real life, Brando and Sinatra absolutely hated each other, but they have great chemistry in the movie.  The songs are catchy, particularly "Luck Be A Lady Tonight" sung by Brando which did something for my lady parts, not going to lie.  This film is over two hours, which I think normally would be too long for a musical, but I was entertained the entire time.  Highly recommended; one of my favorite musicals of all time (after Moulin Rouge! and West Side Story).

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Frank Sinatra protested against Brando being cast, largely because he wanted the part of Sky Masterson for himself.

Sinatra's nickname for Brando was Mumbles.

Excellent song:

284. Artists and Models

Artists and Models
Directed by Frank Tashlin

Oh Lord, spare us.  A Jerry Lewis movie.  I mean, I knew it was coming, I just….I thought I had more time.

Many years ago, I innocently got Cinderfella for me and my sister to watch for a movie night.  I didn't realize what Jerry Lewis was back then.  So young.  So naive.  My sister and I watched in horror as Jerry Lewis acted mentally retarded in order to garner laughs.  We shut it off after a half hour.

Now, a fresh horror is upon me once more.  I feel like the sheriff in My Bloody Valentine when Harry Warden started killing everyone again after they thought he was dead.  He's back in my life, everybody.

Jerry Lewis is not funny and extremely obnoxious.  And he is just offensive to me.  This time, he stars as a nutcase who yells out comic book ideas in his sleep that Dean Martin sells for profit.  Oh, and Shirley Maclaine is annoying in this as well.

Yuck.  And we still have Nutty Professor to come.  DAH DAH DAH!

RATING: -----

Interesting Facts:

Enough said.

283. Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth
Directed by Herbert Biberman

This movie, according to my Netflix envelope, apparently holds the distinction of being the only movie in American history that was blacklisted.  So that in itself is pretty interesting.  Unfortunately, the rest of the film was not.

This is a communist propaganda film.  Anytime there's a propaganda film on this list, I am a bit wary.  The list makers most likely but the movie on the list because of its historical relevance rather than because the film is enjoyable.  Not to mention the fact that this film is largely composed of regular people, not actors, so the story is never really that convincing.

Basically, it is about a workers' strike in New Mexico.  I think the issues raised in the film (feminism, worker's rights, etc.) are extremely relevant. Still, it wasn't a fun watch.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The film was developed in secret because the filmmakers were afraid of sabotage.

The movie was forbidden from being shot in Central, New Mexico.  Filming then moved to Silver City, New Mexico where they were told "get out of town or go out in black boxes."

Monday, February 11, 2013

282. Sansho Dayu

Sansho Dayu
Sansho The Bailiff
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

In this entry of the book, the writer informed me that if I am not crying at the end of this movie, there is a hole in my soul.  Scarily enough, I did not cry, though it did make me sad.  I am not a huge crier; maybe three or four movies on the list have made me cry.  Anyway, I urge you to watch this film and take the soul test; maybe you won't fail like I did.

Japanese cinema is always rather depressing but it is so beautiful that I am always eager to watch it.  This story is no exception.  The story centers on a kind man who is sent into exile.  His wife and children then try to join him but for various reasons are separated.  Hilarity, surprisingly enough, does not ensue.

Like I said, this is a very beautiful film, albeit an intensely sad one.  I love how in Japanese movies you can have very depressing movies without seeming sentimental (here's looking at you Umberto D.).  My one complaint is that the action dragged on a bit slowly, but I suppose that was so you would become more invested in the characters, so all is forgiven.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Mizoguchi let the composer do the music alone.

The story was originally going to center on Sansho but ended up evolving into a story that followed Zushio's and Anju's characters.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

281. Carmen Jones

Carmen Jones
Directed by Otto Preminger

Way back in 1920, I reviewed the film Within Our Gates which was the first movie that completely starred African Americans.  I really was not impressed with it; it was rather dull and I am pretty sure it was only on the list because it had that distinction.  Now 34 years later, we have this little underrated gem.

This is a gorgeous film with bright colors, great dance numbers, and beautiful people.  The story is based on the opera Carmen, only it takes place within the setting of a factory.  I have never actually seen an opera (Richard Gere has not taken me to one yet) but I knew the story and this was certainly an entertaining and clever adaptation.

I expected this to be another token film but was pleasantly surprised that it was brilliant and one of the best musicals I have seen in a long time.  I have to find more films with Dorothy Dainridge; she was delightful!

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Both main characters' singing was dubbed, even though they were both accomplished singers.

Average shot length was 36 seconds.

280. Silver Lode

Silver Lode
Directed by Allan Dwan

Man, everyone is really jumping on this whole McCarthy allegory in westerns craze.  In fact, one of the antagonists is actually named McCarty.  Coincidence?  I think not!

John Payne (this similar name thing is getting weird) stars as Dan Ballard, who is accused of murder on his wedding day.  At first, the town shows support and promises that that they will stand by his side.  Gradually, though, they turn against him and become an angry mob.

Like I said, there is really nothing new here.  It kind of seems like a High Noon wannabe.  I man, it is a beautifully shot wannabe, but still rather than repetitive.  I did enjoy the character of Dolly, a sassy prostitute who seemed to be smarter than everyone in the town.

Redundant but enjoyable.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

John Payne's stunt double wears different shoes that Payne.  Makes him pretty easy to spot.

Available on YouTube:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

279. Senso

Directed by Luchino Visconti

Is this film a must see?  Absolutely not.  It is dull as hell, all the characters are annoying, the dubbing is off, and the acting is overdone.  Yeah, this definitely is not going to be a rave.

This movie is about a countess who has an affair with an Austrian officer, betraying her country in the process. You can tell just from that sentence that this is going to be melodramatic and over the top.  That style can be fun, but only when it is pulled off with great acting.  Unfortunately, here, it is not.

Add to that, this movie is just plain sloppy.  The editing sucks and like I said, the audio/visual is unsynchronized.  Why this movie is on the list puzzles me.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

Farley Granger had a fight with Visconti toward the end of filming and returned to the United States.  Visconti had a stand in film Granger's last scenes.

278. Shichinin no Samurai

Shichinin no Samurai
The Seven Samurai
Directed by Akira Kurosawa

I do not even know where to begin with this movie. It is one of my favorites and definitely my favorite action movie (sorry Die Hard).

This movie is about a village that is constantly attacked by bandits.  They decide to hire seven samurai to defend it. The motley crew that doesn't get along at first but gradually becomes a family is such a cliche now but this is truly the first instance of that.  Also, this is the first movie to have slow motion action sequences.  That was really random but I just get way too excited talking about this movie.

Ignoring the cinematic achievements, this is one of the most exciting, entertaining movies I have ever seen.  The film moves at a pretty fast pace, but the director still gives us time to development an attachment to each character so you actually care about the last battle.  I know as I type these words I am not doing the film justice, partly because I am getting burnt out (six posts in a row will do that to you), and partly because you just kind of have to go ahead and watch it for yourself to understand its magnificence.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

First use of the shot of the enemy coming into view as they crest a hilltop.

Considered to be the first modern action movie.

Kurosawa's ancestors were samurai.

277. La Strada

La Strada
The Road
Directed by Federico Fellini

Man, I really hate Fellini.  Thanks to this list, I have actually seen around ten of his films.  I keep hoping one will stick with me but I always just end up hating all of them, including this one.

So this weird clown girl is pretty much sold to a strongman at a circus.  He is horrible and abusive but she sticks with him, because he has no one else.  Gee, I wonder why?  Anyway, more shit happens but this is a spoiler free zone.

You can see from the plot summary that this film is beyond pretentious.  Besides that fact, the story is just plain stupid.  Watching such a weak woman and such a brutal man is not my idea of fun.

Stupid and overrated.  And so begins our journey with Fellini.

RATING: -----

Interesting Facts:

Won the first academy award for best foreign language film.

276. The Barefoot Contessa

The Barefoot Contessa
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

I watched this film a little while ago and still can't really decide if I liked it.  On the one hand, it was beautifully shot and Humphrey Bogart was entertaining.  On the other hand, I just don't like Ava Gardner and I found the parts of the  movie rather dull.

Humphrey Bogart plays a washed up director who is reduced to working for a businessman/asshole, played by Warren Stevens.  Stevens decides he wants to find a new star and discovers Ava Gardner, who is a free spirit (she walks in her bare feet!  She must be really deep!).  She makes it big but fame and money don't buy happiness.  This whole rags to riches to rags story is a common theme lately.

Like I said, I found parts of the movie quite dull but the ending is so exciting and unexpected that it made it all worth it.  Unfortunately, Hollywood tried to portray another culture in this film and that always ends in offensiveness and awkwardness.  Ava Gardner plays a Spanish women who seems like she can't really speak Spanish.

Worth it for the ending but definitely not a favorite.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

The character of Maria Vargas was based on Rita Hayworth.

275. A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born
Directed by George Cukor

Judy Garland is such a weird actress.  Something about her has always unsettled me.  Maybe it is because The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me In St. Louis were so creepy or maybe the blackface she wore in Babes In Arms is still rather fresh in my memory.  Still, this is probably the best movie I have seen her in; it's almost like she was made for the role.

This movie is about a drunk actor who makes Judy Garland into a star.  He changes her, she thinks she can change him.  These things rarely end well.

So this was an interesting film albeit way too long, clocking in at three hours.  That is just way too long for a musical, especially when virtually every song sounds the same.  This is one of the first musicals I have seen on the list that has an actual deep plot.  You can see what is happening, but there is no stopping it.  It is especially poignant if you know Judy Garland's real life story.

Like I said, the songs aren't very original.  I have never been a huge fan of Garland's singing either; just way too low for me.  Still, worth a watch.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Judy Garland was hit so hard in the film when James Mason's character slapped her, that the whole side of her face was bruised.

Groucho Marx reportedly said that Judy Garland not winning an Oscar for her performance was the "biggest robbery since Brink's."