Category: The Greats

Chinatown

Overview: When private detective Jake Gittes is hired to investigate an adultery case, he discovers something much darker. Paramount Pictures. 1974. Rated R. 131 minutes. Everything Matters: The first time I saw Chinatown, I thought I had missed something. The film propelled me into action and treachery, dirty dealing and danger, so suddenly, that I felt certain that I had missed the first half of it. Alas, I hadn’t, and that’s just how Chinatown rolls. Chinatown is filled with murder, incest, lies and deceit as Detective Gittes uncovers a dark conspiracy that runs throughout the veins of a town....

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Psycho

Overview:  A Phoenix secretary checks into a hotel run by an odd loner.  Paramount/Universal.  1960.  Rated R. 109 Minutes. From Rejected to Revered: Many people, including this writer, hold Alfred Hitchcock in high esteem as one of the greatest directors of all time. His style, creativity, and technique has proven influential to… well, pretty much every modern movie.  Perhaps none of his films has offered more influence than one of his best and most famous works: Psycho.  In an attempt at veering away from his usual noir style of storytelling, Hitchcock  presented his idea for a movie adaptation of...

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12 Angry Men

Overview:  Things get heated as a jury deliberates. United Artists; 1957; Not Rated; 96 Minutes Mild Irritation: The poster for 12 Angry Men, with that iconic image of the wavy knife sticking into the ground, seems rather desperate. It promises a much more thrilling film, one that “explodes like 12 sticks of dynamite!” “Life Is In Their Hands — Death Is On Their Minds!” screams the tagline, and even the title teases a passionate fury which the movie never really delivers. Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is about as small-scale as movies get, taking place almost entirely in a single room and consisting mostly of men discussing nuances in a case of which the audience has no other knowledge That’s not to say that it isn’t dramatic, of course. The brilliance is in how dramatic Lumet makes it. This film offers a master-class in cinematography, and I mean that literally. The way Lumet and cinematographer Boris Kaufman use the camera to communicate the atmosphere of the room is Filmmaking 101, and anyone with an interest in film would do well to pay attention to it. Lumet and Kaufman communicate the tension and claustrophobia of the room by moving the camera closer and closer to the actors’ faces as the film goes on, and changing lenses to shorten the depth of field. By the end, when the characters are at...

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Toy Story 2

Overview:  While Andy is away at camp, Woody is toynapped by a collector who intends to sell him to a museum in Japan.  1999; distributed by Buena Vista Pictures; rated G; 92 minutes. Bigger and Better:  In the four years after the original Toy Story was released, Pixar’s animation software and technology expanded by leaps and bounds.  Years of experience  in which to further develop their computer animation (along with triple the budget) allowed for the sequel to the groundbreaking 1995 film to become even more visually astounding.  Although Pixar was careful to preserve the integrity and aesthetics of the characters...

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Blade Runner

Overview: In the near future of 2019, Harrison Ford is forced to mumble and grumble while hunting down a group of replicants. Warner Bros.; Rated R; 116 minutes. Los Angeles 2019:  Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner presents a grim future for Los Angeles. The streets are cluttered with people, cars fly overhead. The night atmosphere is one of constant rain, often coated with a blue hue, while daytime in the city is covered in yellow smog reflecting the sun through a film of pollution. The scenery is a clear homage...

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Toy Story

Overview: Cowboy doll Woody feels his status as favourite toy is threatened when his owner receives a high-tech Buzz Lightyear action figure. Pixar Animation Studios; 1995; Rating PG; 81 Minutes. There’s a First Time for Everything: Toy Story was the very first computer-generated feature film. Arriving in theatres just one year after Disney’s acclaimed 2D animation The Lion King, the technological advance was astounding. From Buzz Lightyear’s clear helmet – complete with its reflections and squashed flies – to rain drops streaking down windows, Toy Story’s technology enabled the creation of an animated world so detailed and lifelike it...

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Boyhood Measures Hypocrisy in Parental Judgment

Overview: Filmed over a groundbreaking twelve years, Boyhood is the story of a young boy growing up. IFC; 2014; Rated R; 164 minutes What Is This?: Boyhood garnered instant buzz when director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused) divulged he had been working on a film project over a decade. The movie warrants some explanation. Filmed in 39 days over 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood is an unprecedented feat in film history. In its essence, it’s simply a story that chronicles Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) childhood, age 6 to 18 and “unfolds like a memory” with a powerful, documentary-like feel. Boyhood...

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Persona

Overview: A well-known actress (Liv Ullmann) and her nurse (Bibi Andersson) retreat to a small cottage after she has a breakdown, and their lives become increasingly surreal. AB Svensk Filmindustri; 1966; Unrated; 84 Minutes Tearing Down the Wall: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is a terrifically unsettling paean to the artist and the audience, forever trapped in each other’s orbits but rarely coming close enough to meet. Bergman aims to directly influence his audience, to make them furrow their brows and shift uncomfortably in their seats. The great joy of Persona is that he does this by making a film about...

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Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Overview: Luke begins his training with a Jedi Master, while his comrades find themselves at the mercy of the Empire as the result of a well-laid trap to capture young Skywalker.  1980; 20th Century Fox; rated PG; 127 minutes. The Great Escape:  The fist pumping climax that concludes A New Hope leaves the viewer with a knowing feeling that it can’t be that easy.  When you knock down the bad guys and they get back up, they return with gusto.  The Empire hits back, and it hits back hard.  In Empire Strikes Back, each of our main characters is trying to escape...

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Stories We Tell

Overview: Stories We Tell explores the nature of truth and storytelling while investigating an unraveling secret regarding director Sarah Polley’s family history. National Film Board of Canada; 2013; Unrated; 109 Minutes. A Family of Storytellers: Pay attention to the position of the interviewed friends and family members.  They are never centered in the frame, always pushed just to the right or left, filmed at an angle.  Each testimonial is a skewed perspective of skewed perspective.  But make no mistake, this movie isn’t about dishonesty.  Having grown up in a remote backwoods community where storytelling isn’t just a pastime but...

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The Sound of Music (1965)

Overview/Rating/Length: A singing nun is sent to work as a governess for Captain von Trapp and his seven children, and melts his icy military heart with her music, gumption, and earnest concern for the children’s well-being. Rated: G; Robert Wise Productions/Twentieth Century Fox; 174 minutes. How do you Review a Classic Like The Sound of Music?: I remember the first time I saw The Sound of Music. I was three or four, and it was on TV at our hotel. My parents made me turn it off and go to bed before it was over, but not before I’d...

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Gravity

Overview:  Orbiting debris sends an astronaut and engineer drifting into space; Warner Bros; 2013; Rated R; 91 Minutes. The Future of Cinema: Any contention that any film experience could be comparable to its subject matter is a ridiculous one. Watching Donnen’s Charade doesn’t count as having visited Paris. The Purple Heart hasn’t yet been awarded to anyone for surviving a showing of Saving Private Ryan.  But Gravity provides an experience so effectively like being in space that one can’t help but leave excited for the future of movies.  In the opening scene, an uncut seventeen-minute take, the camera floats...

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The Godfather

Overview: In a film that many— including this reviewer — hail as one of the best movies ever made, The Godfather tells the outward struggle of a 1940s Mafia family trying to defend their empire from rival families, and the inward struggle they face as the family’s leadership is forced to shift gradually from father to son. 1972; Rated R; 178 minutes. Sexy Pacing: This film works as well as it does for more reasons that I can probably even appreciate — the acting is pitch-perfect, the writing is sharp, the cinematography is awe-inspiring, the music is dramatic and...

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The Fall (2006)

Overview: In 1915, a film stunt man, paralyzed and lovesick, offers an improvised fairy tale to a young hospital patient with the hopes of coercing her into a dark scheme.  Roadside Attractions; 2006; Rated R; 117 Minutes. A Milestone in Film Production:  With just one film under his belt (The Cell), director Tarsem had a vision and a drive to see it to fruition.  Tarsem, to completely avoid studio influence, financed this film with his own money (along with the support of star Lee Pace and fellow former music video directors Spike Jonze and David Fincher).  The Fall was...

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Seven Samurai

Overview: Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese epic about a group of seven misfit samurai that come together to defend a farming village from bandits. Toho; 1954; Unrated; 207 Minutes. The Original Epic: At the time of Seven Samurai’s release, very few films had a vision or scope as ambitious as Kurosawa’s, with his large action set pieces, unprecedented battles, and sheer number of actors on screen. The film tops the three hour mark, but very little of that time is filler, as Kurosawa provides ample character development in each of the samurai. By the end of the film, each samurai has...

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