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On the Waterfront contends for best all time

23 Aug

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Marlon Brando is a heavyweight actor that delivers a championship caliber performance that paved the way for actors to see the perfect execution of “the method.” Elia Kazan directs this masterpiece about dockworker and muscle for the local mob Tony Malloy (Brando), who witnesses the murder of a fellow dockworker. Malloy struggles with his conscience after he engages in a relationship with Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the victim’s sister while his brother Charlie (Rod Steiger) pleads with him to look the other way and forget about it, or else become the next “accident.”

On the Waterfront is one of the most important pieces of art in the 20th century.  The film is as relevant now as it was sixty years ago. The actor, the character, and the story continues to inspire artists and audiences to fight the good fight and to do the right thing in spite of the consequences.  It is a contender for the best film all time.

WORD COUNT: 160

Adam’s Grade: A+

Chuck’s Grade: A+

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Young Frankenstein is a much different monster

20 Jun

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Rarely can parodies transfer meaning from one generation to the next, but director Mel Brooks with the help of comedic actor Gene Wilder create one of the funniest films of all time. The 1974 film, Young Frankenstein balances satire with originality to transform the 1931 Universal classic horror film into a much different monster that makes audience laugh until hurts.

Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson (Wilder) inherits his grandfather’s castle begins conducting experiments with the help of his lab assistants Igor (Marty Feldman) and Inga (Teri Garr). The next thing you know, Dr. Frankenstein is screaming, “It’s alive!” and the creature (Peter Boyle) with the abnormal brain escapes.

Brooks and Wilder understand how to bring a good story back from the dead. Their attention to detail and their passion for the project separates them from the long list of ordinary comedic artists. Brook’s characters become part of pop culture and the film remains relevant to audiences forty years later.

WORD COUNT: 155

Adam’s Grade: A+

Chuck’s Grade: A

Nuit Blanche (short film) breaks through

8 Jun

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Director Arev Manoukian captures a moment in time that all hopeless romantics can appreciate. His black and white homage to finding love on the streets in Paris at night is a beautifully put together short film. The combination of slow-motion computer generated images and a powerful instrumental ballad smash the conventional approach to a love story with an amazing sequence between two strangers caught up in a special moment. Manoukian does not need words to communicate the power of attraction. His visual metaphors are long-lasting even though his film is over in four minutes.

WORD COUNT: 94

Chuck’s Grade: A

Adam’s Grade: A

Silent Beats (short film) taps into something great

30 Mar

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In 2001, director Jon Chu’s taps into something great with a five-minute short film that takes on racism and people’s stereotypical assumptions about one another.  Silent Beats is a low-budget (400 dollars) black and white student film that mostly takes place in an Asian owned convenience store. The main character is a young African-American boy that enters the store to pick up a couple of things. The Asian store owner and an elderly Caucasian women profile him while the young man, also has his own set of preconceived notions about these two adult characters. The subtext is powerful and throughout the film the sound of a tap dancer is heard. This auditory effect is the backbone of the film and the creative force that lifts the performances to another level. Silent Beats is only the prelude to Chu’s affinity for dance oriented projects that I have come to appreciate for his ability to capture the passion of contemporary dance on film.

WORD COUNT: 159

Chuck’s Grade: A-

Adam’s Grade: A-

Doodlebug turns on itself

23 Mar

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Christopher Nolan has become one of the most popular directors in the world with his Batman trilogy and success of his thriller, Inception, but audiences can trace his affinity for complex mind-bending material back to his black and white short film, Doodlebug. A man is tormented in his apartment by a mysterious pest. He attempts to flatten this pesky rodent with the heal of his shoe. The title reveals more to audiences than is first expected because the idea of a doodle continuing to move outward and growing with every turn is a powerful metaphor that Nolan cleverly explores. Doodlebug turns on itself and leaves audiences looking over their shoulders for their own doodlebugs.

WORD COUNT: 114

Chuck’s Grade: A

Adam’s Grade: A

Sin City is a nice place to visit

22 Mar

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Robert Rodriguez realizes Frank Miller’s dark and violent world of Sin City with a visually exciting film that truly captures the graphic novel’s aesthetic strengths. The combination of modern cinema technology and film noir storytelling successfully entertains audiences, even though at times the violence can be excessive for those unfamiliar with Miller and Rodriguez’s tastes.

The script integrates three storylines from the novel. First, “The Hard Goodbye”, where Marv (Mickey Rourke), muscular outcast looking for the person responsible for killing his true love Goldie. Second, “The Big Fat Kill”, where Dwight (Clive Owen), a man who takes the law into his own hands against the city’s corrupt law enforcement. Lastly, “That Yellow Bastard”, where Officer Hartigan (Bruce Willis), a cop who risks his life to protect Nancy (Jessica Alba) from a pedophile (Nick Stahl). All three stories are engaging and the actors green screen performances are top-notch.

Sin City is nice to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

WORD COUNT: 160

Adam’s Grade: A-

Chuck’s Grade: A-

Sabrina still has style

3 Mar

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Director Billy Wilder takes a delightful script and transforms it into one of the best romantic comedies of all time. Love triangles are nothing new to Hollywood’s silver screen, but this star-studded cast, Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden sharpens the angles and tightens the focus so there are no loose ends.

Engaged playboy David Larrabee (Holden) becomes attracted to Sabrina (Hepburn) and wants to call off his wedding, but his older brother Linus (Bogart) tries to prevent him because it will interfere with an important business deal. Things become more complex when Linus begin develops feelings for Sabrina as well.

Hepburn can do no wrong while Bogart and Holden’s performances are equally up for the task as Billy Wilder directs these Hollywood icons to the hearts of 1950s households. Sabrina, like other Hepburn films become synonymous with fashion, which has contributed as much to this film’s longevity as the actors and its director.  Sabrina still has style.

WORD COUNT: 159

Adam’s Grade: A

Chuck’s Grade: A

A Streetcar Named Desire is the king around here

26 Jan

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Rarely do I use the word masterpiece to describe anything, but Elia Kazan’s film production of Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire is closest thing to that word. The main cast provides some of the most talked about and studied performances in film history. The unforgettable name, “Stella!” continues to be part of American popular culture. Marlon Brando (Stanley Kowalski) and Vivien Leigh (Blance Dubois) electrify the screen with their commanding performances while Karl Malden (Mitch) and Kim Hunter (Stella) hold their own in the face of an intimidating and domineering Stanley. The film touches upon several subjects, patriarchy, marriage, mental illness, domestic violence, homophobia, and alcoholism in a way that has left an imprint on audiences both young and old.

The film set the standard for several generations to come in several filmmaking categories. A Streetcar Named Desire has proved it is “the king around here and don’t you forget it.”

WORD COUNT: 153

Adam’s Grade: A+

Chuck’s Grade: A+

The Gold Rush strikes it rich

10 Jan

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One of Charlie Chaplin’s most memorable and successful silent films was The Gold Rush (1925, re-released 1942). It has stood the test of time because it is more than a simple comedy. It is a story about a lonely character that desperately wants to feel loved.

The Tramp has fallen for a saloon girl named Georgia that does not share the same level of affection. He attempts to woo her over dinner where Chaplin performs the iconic Bread Roll dance, but she is hesitant because of his status.  Most of the physical comedy takes place in a cabin occupied by Big Jim (Mack Swain), and later a wanted criminal named Black Larsen (Tom Murray). The sequences between the three actors are hilarious, especially when the cabin is teetering on the edge of a cliff.

Chaplin understood his audiences then, and seemingly understands his audiences today because The Gold Rush continues to strike it rich.

WORD COUNT: 154

Adam’s Grade: A

Chuck’s Grade: A

Down by Law is a rare film that belongs in everyone’s collection

30 Dec

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There is something special about Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law that is difficult to put your finger on, but for some reason this black and white film about three strangers ending up in the same New Orleans jail cell is mesmerizing.  Zack (Tom Waits) is an unemployed deejay that ends up driving the wrong car across town one night, Jack (John Lurie) is a low-level pimp that doesn’t have the stomach for violence, and Roberto (Roberto Benigni) is the most unlikely murderer in the French Quarter. The three of them could not be more different and Jarmusch’s story does allow audiences to take a familiar path because there is this awkward tension throughout the film that remains until the very end. Robby Muller’s cinematography is amazing and his ability to capture the confinement of New Orleans during the 1980s is a testament to his craft and vision. Down by Law is a rare independent film that belongs in everyone’s collection.

WORD COUNT: 159

Chuck’s Grade: A

Adam’s Grade: N/A