Monday, July 25, 2011

#77: All the President's Men (1976)

As somebody who lives and works in the communications world, I couldn't wait to see this film. Not just to see how different the journalistic world was over 30 years ago compared to now, but to see how two reporters essentially brought down a political power. The synopsis on my Netflix sleeve deemed this movie as, "The film that made everybody want to become a journalist," and I truly can see why. This movie not only reinforces the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword, but it says that to truly be mighty, that pen needs to be unbiased and filled with integrity.

All the President's Men is a historical print of the Watergate scandal that eventually led to Richard Nixon leaving the American presidential office. The two men who get this credit is the 1972 Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman). Woodward is the rookie reporter who still goes by the book wherein Bernstein doesn't mind selling the philosophy that "it's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission." The movie follows the grueling process of getting to the bottom of the truth when the entity that's holding all the answers happens to be a little organization known as the U.S. government. Turns out, getting those answers aren't easy, and it's fascinating to get an inside look of how real journalism exposed the truth.

What I loved about this film is that there is not a single moment or scene that is wasted. This tight screenplay by master scribe, William Goldman, lets every scene have a purpose. The screenplay is much smarter than you are. And what I mean by that is that it trusts its audience to fill in the holes instead of being spoon-fed the answers. Just like Woodward and Bernstein, you start trying to solve the scandal with them, even though you know what the outcome will be. It's not about the question, “Why”, but the question, “How?”

In an age where almost everybody has a Facebook profile, it's fascinating to see a time in life where reporters had to actually do research by… gasp…. going to the library or making phone calls! You get to see how hard these two reporters had to work and it's invigorating to see the passion that they and their editors had to invest into their Watergate news stories. Despite showing a world that probably will be extinct in the near future, this movie feels strongly current. These days, newspapers are dying and the media seems to start getting the same credibility as used car salesmen, but I can't help but think that if this film was required viewing for all journalism classes, maybe there would be some hope for journalism going forward.

It was refreshing to watch a film that had my attention for its entire run time. The editing, acting and direction are all solid, but it's the story that reels you in. We live in a cynical world, but I'm so glad this film reinforces that the media and communications do indeed have the power to fight this. It gives you hope that although there is corruption in this world, there are those who are fighting to expose it. And they don't need a sword to do so.

I give All the President's Men, 5 out of 5 Deep Throats.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#78: Modern Times (1936)

I'm really relieved to get this movie under my belt.  As a movie fan, I can now say that I've seen a Charlie Chaplin film.  Chaplin and his character, the Tramp, has to be one of the most well known icons in film history, yet, I bet a big percentage of America's population has never seen any of his work.  I now have the privilege to be on the other side of this bracket.

If you were wondering if he is worth all the hype, he indeed is.  His comic timing and movements in Modern Times are so natural and fluid.  I would find myself time after time pulling myself away from the comic antics on screen to reflect on Chaplin's unique genius.

Modern Times is a perfect title for this film because it describes the movie perfectly but also imitates life because it is known as one of the last silent films that was made in the new modern era of the "talkie" film.  The film follows the Tramp in and out of scenarios where he struggles to make a living.  He can never seem to keep up with the labor force of factory work or the demands of a waiter job, but with the help of a new found romance with A Gamin (Paulette Goddard), the two are still able to find hope in a society that seems to be leaving them behind.

I think this movie has made more of an impression on me as I write about it at this moment than when I was watching it.  The comedic set pieces make you forget about the thematic elements that Chaplin weaves throughout the movie.  He uses sound effects only for machinery and there is some spoken dialogue, but only when it is from the police radio or through the intercom system used by his factory boss.  But I don't want to underplay the comedy.  Chaplin is constantly throwing gags at you that are memorable and hilarious

The only downfall of the movie is that sometimes the scenes seem to exist just for Chaplin to develop humor instead of developing a plot.  Scenes come off more like SNL skits at times, but what do I know? Maybe the 1934 audience was infuriated with the brutal economy, so all they were looking for was laughs.  Chaplin could clearly see that there was a movement that was leaving him behind, and although the ending of this movie is somewhat bleak, he instills a hope within his characters that can't help but spill into the viewer.  Life is bleak more often than not, but as the last title card states, "Buck up - never say die.  We'll get along!"

I give Modern Times 4 out of 5 smuggled "nose powder."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 2011 - Inside Buckner


The latest episode that I put together for Inside Buckner.  I think our single-parent family ministry is one of the coolest things that Buckner does.  Cynthia is an amazing person and has some pretty cool OU ties!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

#79: The Wild Bunch (1969)

The western genre is a tough one for me to tackle. Like trying sushi, I'm hesitant to indulge in the medium, but I always seem to enjoy the outcome once I try it. I think Westerns either fit into the camp of highly entertaining and action-oriented (Tombstone) or methodical and somber (Unforgiven). I would place The Wild Bunch by Sam Peckinpah in the entertaining camp, but when examined closely, exudes a lot of thought-provoking ideas that the methodical Western often brings.

The audience is thrown into choosing the difficult task of liking or despising a gang of old, yet seasoned gang of cowboys led by Pike (William Holden) and Dutch (Ernest Borgnine). After a failed, epically violent, and supposed final bank robbery, the group reluctantly decides to get out of the game for good by helping a ruthless Mexican militia. As the gang tries to dodge hired bounty hunters while stealing American weaponry for an unpredictable Mexican general, Pike and Dutch must face their inner demons and determine whether or not they are any better than the despicable people they both help and avoid.

I won't lie, it takes a while to get into this movie. Now, I watched the director's cut on Blu-ray, so I was automatically invested into a two hour and thirty minute movie. I don't know how else you can view this movie, but I imagine that the shorter version gets rid of a lot of set-up in the first hour that just isn't needed. Once you get into the journey of these crippling outlaws, the movie really becomes an entertaining ride with some very dark undertones.

When I saw that the movie was made in 1969, it made complete sense because you can easily compare this movie's themes to those of the number #84 film Easy Rider. Like Wyatt and Billy of Dennis Hopper's trippy road trip, Pike and Dutch serve as rebels with no place to call home. They resort to brutal violence to get what they think will make them feel good, but there really isn't any amount of money that can blur out their troubled souls.

This is my first Peckinpah film, but I already knew that he was always criticized for glorifying violence. I was really shocked for what was shown in this film, especially for its day. The body count could rival any Schwarzenegger movie. Although the blood doesn't make you turn your head away from the screen, there is shock when you see innocent women get murdered. Often these type of acts are seen off screen, but unlike cheesy 80’s action films, I really think Peckinpah is trying to make you aware of how disgusting, revolting, and careless violence can be. During the time this movie was being made, America was going to war in Vietnam, and you can't deny that the undertones of senseless murders that happen in this movie correlate to the current events of America going into the 70's.

Technically, I think this film was really ahead of its time, especially in its editing style. Peckinpah was using new types of cuts, especially during the action scenes, that I hadn't seen in older movies like this one. His directing style is very calculated, and you can tell that the man behind the camera is intentional in every close-up and every cinematic wide shot. The acting is also really solid and there are actually some comedic moments at times, but every once in a while the film started to feel campy, especially in some flashback scenes that I think were just not needed.

Those few cheesy moments and a lengthy set-up prevent me from giving this film a higher rating, but I really was challenged by its themes of violence, new technology, inner turmoil, and knowing when to let go. All of that and it really has some good suspenseful, fun moments. If you are a fan of Westerns, this is a must see. Those who are weary of the Western genre could go either way with this one, but I believe if you give it a chance, you won't leave dissatisfied.

I give The Wild Bunch 4 out of 5 machine guns.

Monday, October 4, 2010

#80: The Apartment (1960)

Oscar Winner:
Best Picture, Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Art Direction

It's really easy to overlook how great a movie The Apartment is. It's not flashy, nor in your face. It's this subtleness that makes it such a great film. Whitney and I's favorite type of movies to watch are dramadies. Those movies that could either be a drama or a comedy. At their core, the dramatic stakes are high, but there is a slice of life that makes the conflicts bearable… even entertaining. The Apartment's genius lies in its ability to focus on the characters and forget all the surrounding elements around it.

Set in a New York work environment that is now familiar because of the popularity of Mad Men on television, C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a goofy, yet charming man, who is willing to do whatever he can to get to the top of his insurance company. That doesn't mean backstabbing his co-workers or being cutthroat, but lending his apartment to the top dogs in the company to use for their extramarital affairs. This in itself becomes a full time job as he constantly juggles the vacancy of his apartment with little promises fulfilled by his bosses. Baxter finally gets his big break when the president of the company (Fred MacMurray) wants in on Baxter's hobby. As this event causes things to finally go right in Baxter's life, as well as a budding romance with the elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine), it also causes a mess of a love triangle that is not even close to being worth the price of success.

The Apartment is about 50 years old now, but its relevancy is still so strong. The film proves that the themes of pride and the emptiness of the desire for personal and material wealth never go away. If one was able to suspend thoughts of current affairs, this film could be released for the first time today and still have just as a big of an impact as it did in 1960. This film speaks frankly about sex, affairs, and suicide, which I'm sure was a shocker for filmgoers in the 60’s, but it's amazing how things really aren't that different now than 50 years ago. People still fall in that trap that money and success can bring happiness, and I can't think of any other film that instills this idea better than this one. The world that is presented here is full of faulted people with false ideals, and that is not unlike any other day in the American life.

It's fun to see a film on this list that isn't so flashy or has some kind of gimmick to prove its brilliance. It's just great storytelling, pure and simple. The director, Billy Wilder, is one of the most admired directors to come out of Hollywood. Based on this film alone, I think there are three reasons for this. One, he knows how to cast. The acting in this film is brilliant, no matter how small or big the role is. Jack Lemmon is personally one of my favorite actors to watch and he is perfect playing a character who is extremely lovable, but so very disillusioned. Two, he lets the story be the main star of the movie, not all the other elements of film. Don't get me wrong, cinematography and set design is crucial to a film's success, but if I'm not engaged in the story, I'm done with the film. And last, Wilder is brilliant at piecing together a film. No scene is wasted. Everything that is shown or said is there for a reason and enhances the film experience. I never was distracted, nor bored. How could a film not be labeled as great?

Like a good wine, The Apartment will just get better over time. During this present economic crisis, I can't think of a better example than this film to explain why people get greedy and do the things that they do. Most importantly, this film is both fun and has substance, and I would recommend it to just about anybody.

I give The Apartment 5 out of 5 card games.

* Oh yeah, and it has probably one of the best closing lines to a movie ever.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The next 10...

It has taken me a little over 7 months to watch #90-#81. It’ll get harder and harder now that Hallie is in this world, but trust me, she's worth it! These 10 were a little harder to get through with them being older in style and also longer in length. Looking at the next 10 gets me really excited. I’ve loved watching these, but I think it’ll just get more enjoyable as I go along.

Here's how #90-#81 faired:
1. 12 Angry Men - *****
2. The Sixth Sense - *****
3. Titanic - **** 1/2
4. Platoon - ****
5. Easy Rider - ****
6. Sunrise - ****
7. Swing Time - *** 1/2
8. Spartacus - *** 1/2
9. A Night at the Opera - ***
10. Bringing Up Baby - ** 1/2

Sunday, September 19, 2010

#81: Spartacus (1960)

Oscar Winner:
Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actor (Peter Ustinov), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design

I hate the word epic, especially when it's tagged as the genre of a film. It makes me think that the film is going to be long in length, have a lot of scenic shots to just show you how grand the movie actually is, and be very predictable. Spartacus easily met all these qualifications. So, the question was if I would enjoy this movie? It did take me several sittings to get through the 3 hour and 15 minute run time, but in the end, the qualities that make an epic indeed an epic, made this film an entertaining watch.

Kirk Douglas plays the title character, a tough slave who is sold into the hands of a Gladiator trainer, Batiatus (brilliantly acted by Peter Ustinov). With the brute combination of mistreatment and falling in love with one of Batiatus' slave girls (Jean Simmons), Spartacus leads a rebellion that overthrows the camp. As Spartacus leads the slaves towards their homeland, he unknowingly becomes a chess piece in a political game between two Roman senators, the republican Gracchus (Charles Laughton) and the militarist Crassus (Laurence Oliver).

Does the plot sound familiar at all? Switch out a few settings and names, and this could've totally been Gladiator or Braveheart (Oddly enough, epic, yet one of my favorite films). As mentioned before, this film is tough to get through solely on its length. If it would've been trimmed down by 45 minutes, it would have been much more watchable and I honestly think it could've retained its impact. It's interesting to know that Stanley Kubrick directed this film because it feels very dated. It's historically known that this was the last film in which he didn't have full control over all elements of the film and it shows. As a viewer, you slowly see two styles start to clash. Spartacus has that traditional Hollywood stiffness to its acting and dialogue that was so prominent in an earlier film on this list, Ben-Hur. But you begin to see Kubrick interject his now famous artistic vision in the way he stages and composes some shots. There is a much more realistic nature to the violence that must have not been seen up to that point. Spartacus is very revolutionary in the way that you can see a new style of filmmaking starting to take over the movie system.

Even though Kirk Douglas comes off like Charlton Heston at times, he definitely can carry a film, but its the supporting roles that keep one invested into the plot. I was surprised by how much more interested I became in the political maneuvering than I did the battle scenes. Unfortunately, there aren't too many surprises to what happens. I don't know if it's because that so many things that occur in the movie are now cliches in the epic genre, but when you aren't kept on the edge of your seat with a film like this, it's hard to pay attention.

That said, the plot is challenging enough to keep you invested and it really does have some moments that are truly memorable. I can now say, "I am Spartacus!" and know the emotional impact it carries. I can see why this film eked its way onto this list, but unless you just eat the epic genre up, you may could find a better feast.

I give Spartacus 3.5 out of 5 fights to the death.

* If you ever have a chance, reading about all the chaos that happened to get this film made is probably more interesting than the film itself.