Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lost in Translation

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person who suffers from this particular phenomenon- because it feels, to me, like I am all alone in this one. Tell me if you ever experience this: You sit down to watch a unanimously loved and widely respected classic film, you don't like it for one reason or another, and then you end up feeling guilty and inferior as a result of said opinion. It's irrational, really-- no one truly judges you on the way you feel about old movies (in fact, no one really cares about our opinions at all). So why do I feel like a stupid, ignorant teenager every time I can't get into a movie I'm "supposed" to like? It's an interesting conundrum...

Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is a prime example of the aforementioned affliction. It's got rave reviews, solidified classic status, and a cult following to boot- and it couldn't keep me interested. I even found myself pawing through my backpack to find my homework just so I'd have something to do besides watch this drawn-out drama...and you know something must be seriously wrong if I'm voluntarily hitting the books.

I tried to start this one last night, but kept getting distracted...maybe I should have let those distractions keep my attention. Afternoon spends its entirety depicting a singular event- a botched bank robbery- from all angles of perception. I guess I understand what director Stanley Lumet was aiming for with his incredibly narrow scope of focus...perhaps he wanted to capture the claustrophobic, even timeless feel of the perpetuated heist...and this, he certainly achieves. I just found myself growing tired of the constant dialogue and monotonous scenery (come on, Stan, not even a costume change?? Throw us shallow kids a bone). And while I'm sure that Lumet intended to convey some sort of esoteric anti-Vietnam-pro-gay-rights-power-to-the-people hidden meaning sort of thing, the message got lost in translation for me when I couldn't invest in the story or characters (get it?? invest?? bank puns...)

Despite starring in an uncomfortably boring picture, Al Pacino still manages to rock. His skillfully faceted Sonny is puzzling and inviting-- quite a feat considering the fact that we're talking about actually liking an angry gay bank robber. Sadly, Pacino lost out to Jack Nicholson for Best Actor at the 1975 Academy Awards...but just because he's a loser doesn't mean we love him any less.

I think the main point I need to stress here is that Dog Day Afternoon is not a bad movie. Brilliantly fashioned, quirky, borderline ridiculous at times (and riddled with gifted performances, to top it off), the film is sure to please (and has pleased) a whole spectrum of viewers looking for a different kind of statement. It may not have piqued my interest...but I represent a very thin slice of the movie-going population (the high school girl...not exactly the bank-robbin type) and therefore my opinion should hold little to no weight (as should most of the opinions of high school girls). Though I do consider myself to be a slightly more discerning viewer than the average aimless teenager, I realize that some movies (like this one) are just going to be beyond me and you should realize that in no way am I trying to disparage the great pictures of the past.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Love Affair

It happened. I didn't want it to happen, I tried to ignore it, I even fought against it-- but all to no avail. Yes, the inevitable has unfortunately befallen me: I've caught Royal Wedding Fever. For anyone who's not familiar with this disease, let me identify some of its symptoms, as it can be a viciously aggressive ailment that may throw your whole life into chaos:

- The victim may suffer spontaneous spasms of fake British accents.
- The victim may find herself filling her DVR with more Will&Kate documentary specials than she could ever hope to watch in one week.
- All waking hours of the victim may be spent scheming ways to procure an invitation to the event, and all sleeping hours may be spent dreaming that she is marrying Prince William on Friday instead of Kate.
- The victim may involuntarily curtsy or bow when attempting to greet friends like a normal person.
- Despite her best efforts, the victim may find that she unconsciously steers each and every conversation towards the Royal Wedding so she can spout off random factoids about the couple, including, but not limited to:
---- A dated timeline of the couple's courtship
---- An overview of the wedding's most exciting attendees
---- A heated compare&contrast session featuring Diana vs. Kate
---- Fact-supported predictions of the wedding's menu selections
---- The color of Prince William's favorite boxers
- The victim may discover that the abominable Lifetime original movie "William & Kate" is actually her new favorite movie, and she may re-watch it an inordinate number of times.

In all seriousness, it's important to catch these symptoms early, because when one hits the advanced stages of RWF (RoyalWeddingFever) like I have, all hope is lost.
My love affair with this event has unfortunately precluded me from conquering any movies Sunday or tonight. As much as I want to work on my list, I'm just too afflicted to tear my attention away from the wedding coverage for more than a commercial's length. I even started Dog Day Afternoon (1975) this evening...but I only made it through the opening credits. Four minutes in, and I had to flip back to my TLC special on Kate's jewelry selection to prevent myself from hyperventilating. I'm in serious trouble.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Places in the Heart

Every once in a while, you stumble across a movie that sears through to your very core and reminds you why we go to the movies in the first place. Tonight, I've found just such a movie. Letters From Iwo Jima(2006).

To say that this film was "good" would be an understatement. Letters stretches beyond the mechanics of a great war movie to reach places in the heart we might not even realize are there. Exploring the human capacity to sacrifice and endure, this film brings grim reality to a famous battle most of us know only from our history textbooks.

Movies about World War II aren't all that hard to come by, and most of them have taken the same dramatic form in treating the conflict. This one finally breaks free from the patriotism-soaked melodramas of norm and breathes life into the ever-silenced American enemy. Told almost entirely in Japanese, the story follows shockingly relateable soldiers from the Imperial ranks as they prepare for and suffer through the bloodiest battle in the bloodiest war of all time. I use the word "shockingly" because I know that none of us would expect to have something in common with a Japanese soldier from the 1940's, as we have been taught our whole lives that they are cold, calculating killers of American soldiers who deserved every bit of the pain we inflicted on them. One of the greatest achievements of this film is proving our long-standing perception wrong, and forcing us to stare unblinking into the eyes of our "enemy"-- one who is now hardly distinguishable from our own brother.

Remember when I said that Clint Eastwood is the man? This movie pretty much cements that statement. His directing here is absolutely flawless, and as if that weren't enough, he had to help compose the tearfully beautiful instrumental score(his aid for this composing job was his own son, Kyle Eastwood!). Seriously, Clint? Let's at least give the other poor schmucks in Hollywood a chance at looking good. As it stands now, basically every other movie-maker in the world pales in comparison to this cinematic demi-god. The way he blends terrifying, sweeping battle scenes of violence with tender, deeply human moments is something only an expert like him could do right.

Ken Watanabe (top) has impressed me before. His turn in Inception (2010) was certainly nothing to scoff at. But here, he one-ups everything he's done before while bringing life to the strong, compassionate General Kuribayashi. Despite his best efforts, though, he doesn't get to win this movie.

Hollywood newcomer Kazunari Ninomiya (bottom) gets to be this movie's winner. His raw, fearless portrayal of young foot soldier Saigo breaks down all the walls surrounding a foreign fighter and makes us fall in love with him--in ways we never expected. Eastwood did a tremendous job selecting Nino, because he is the absolute perfect choice for this type of role: besides his considerable acting chops, he's got the correct look to pull it off. His lovable baby face and short, scrawny stature instantly catch us off guard because we're expecting him, as an enemy soldier, to be hulking and homely. By puncturing this first stereotype, Kazunari is able to crash through all others by showing us the human side of the other side.

I can't believe how much I liked this movie. I honestly did not anticipate that it could capture my attention at all...but it ended up capturing a whole lot more than my attention. A visceral, heart-breaking, daring examination of the human soul, Letters tops the list of the vast body of work on World War II...and throws itself to the heights of the decade's greatest pictures.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I've been like a ghost this month, disappearing and then reappearing like some sort of phantom and tossing my movie list aside like spoiled garbage. Hopefully, though, I'm now here to stay- because I think the bulk of my hard work for the year is over...anything could happen still, but I'm staying optimistic.

What a way to bring it back. Million Dollar Baby(2004) surpassed my expectations in every way and forever redefined a sports movie in my mind. Though it started out slow (slow enough to make me consider turning it off and going to bed like a sane person), it soon erupted into an exciting, endearing drama soaring so far beyond a boxing story that I could hardly even recognize it at all. Eventually, the film took a shock-turn into heartbreaking territory and basically took my soul out and stomped on it...but that was surprisingly alright with me, because it ended so beautifully and sadly that I could accept the fact that I felt like I had just watched a puppy get drowned.

Let me just say that Clint Eastwood is the man. I'm pretty sure he can do absolutely anything in this world...maybe he could be the next president, or take up chainsaw juggling, or cook with Emeril- and he'd be awesome at any of it. As if his flawless directing wasn't enough of a contribution, Mr. Eastwood had to score the thing, produce it, and last but not least, give the most stirring performance in the whole movie from his perch as the lead actor. When do you think he sleeps? Watching his hardened Frankie Dunn crack with paternal affection for his protege Maggie (adoringly personified by Hilary Swank) made me melt, and his emotional display during the viciously tragic ending (which I won't spoil for anybody who hasn't seen this one yet) just about killed me.

But we musn't forget about Ms. Swank, because she was undeniably brilliant as well in her portrayal of Maggie, the impoverished yet brave welterweight boxer who fights her way into our hearts in this film. She has this dopey charm working in her favor...and you have got to give the girl props for allowing herself to go an entire film without looking attractive in a single shot. That takes guts for sure.

Anyway, while I'm on this Clint Eastwood kick, I think it'd only be fitting if I looked into his bright future for just a minute. Currently, he's got a biopic in the works starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, throwing in Armie Hammer and Damon Herriman to fill the other leads. This latest directorial effort, titled J. Edgar, is expected to be released in 2012. There are also rumors churning around out there that he could play maestro to the third remake of A Star is Born, projected to feature Beyonce Knowles and to hit theaters in 2012. Either of those (the former moreso than the latter) will certainly find an eager, expectant fan in me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coming Home

It's been a painfully long time since I wrote anything and I literally have nothing to show for it. Senior year in high school is a pretty busy time and especially now, in mid-April coming in hot off my spring break and a freight train of year-ending tests and projects, life is getting rough with me. I have definitely fallen off the wagon somewhat with my list and it's pretty much guaranteed that I won't be finishing by the end of 2011; however, that doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying. The fact that I'm choosing to persevere in an unnecessary film challenge and not in my mandatory school work troubles me a little bit, but luckily, not enough to get me to stop.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) brought me back on track for my challenge...and I'm not too sure if I really liked it enough to count it among my favorites. Although it made history by being nominated for every Academy Award category in which it was eligible (the only film ever to do so), it just didn't strike a chord with me. Perhaps that's because I'm too young and unseasoned to be affected by its thoroughly adult material...or perhaps it's just a slightly disturbing study of dialogue that holds little merit for the mainstream viewer. Either way, I can't say I was blown out of the water.

This was Elizabeth Taylor like I'd never seen her before. She was a whirlwind force on a warpath in this film, and though I didn't enjoy her character or the story itself, I couldn't help but be impressed by her performance. Taylor's turn as the boisterous, toxic drunk Martha was a far cry from the glamorous typecast I usually associate with the actress, revealing a depth to her range I couldn't have predicted. Put her up on the screen with real-life flame Richard Burton, and you've got an acting ensemble more raw and emotionally-charged than most any you can find on film.

This poster was released several weeks ago, so I'm quite late in joining in the global excitement over this, but I figured I'd blow my horn anyway and sound the alarm. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II" is scheduled to hit the theatres July 15, and no one could be more excited than I am. These movies constitute one of the most celebrated franchises of all time,and they have united the world's youth in unprecedented ways. Seriously, Harry Potter is bigger than you might think.

The anticipation over the final installment in the series is more intense than I've ever witnessed for any movie (though I'm still only a teenager so in reality I have little to compare it to). It's almost not necessary for the film to be good...all it has to do is exist, and it will pretty much rape the box office this summer. Rabid Potter-heads will be pitching tents on the streets for weeks leading up to this fateful date in July, and purchasing tickets could potentially turn into a bloodbath if addicted muggles can't get their hands on some. All this activity will make for a pretty interesting start to our July...so stay tuned.

In other, related Harry Potter news, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I" will be released on DVD on Friday....very exciting. I thought this was one of the most well-done films so far in the series, building to what is sure to be an explosive finale with some tight, mature drama. What's more, a commercial informed me today that a whole scene from Part II will be on the DVD to reel hooked fans like me in a little closer. Good call, Hollywood- I'm basically going to sprint to the store on Friday to get my copy. (Just typing that sentence made me feel less cool.)

Coming home to this blog makes me a little sad to realize I've bitten off more than I can chew here. But while I have resigned myself to the fact that this list will take more time than what just one year has to give, I refuse to give up on conquering the Best Pictures. However long it takes me, they will get watched...and after that, I think I'll have a little bit more credibility when I talk about movies.