Classic Movie Review: Rio Bravo (1959)


Title: Rio Bravo
Release Date: April 4, 1959
Director: Howard Hawks
Production Company: Armada Productions
Summary/Review:

I was predisposed to hate this movie not just because the politics of a John Wayne Western tend to be loathsome but because it was made in response to High Noon, a movie I like that critiqued the blacklisting of Hollywood artists during the Red Scare. Wayne himself predictably declared that High Noon was “un-American” and wanted to make a movie portraying his vision of American machismo. Curiously, both France’s Remove term: Cahiers du Cinéma  and England’s Sight and Sound selected Rio Bravo for their greatest films lists and not High Noon, but the American Film Institute list includes only High Noon.

In Rio Bravo, Wayne is John T. Chance the sheriff of a Texas town who arrests the bratty Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) for murder.  The problem is that Joe’s older brother is a wealthy land baron who has his men surround the town and make several attempts to release Joe. Chance has to rely only on the help of his deputies while they wait for the Marshall to take Joe away.  There’s Dude (Dean Martin), a recovering alcoholic with the shakes, the old and crippled Stumpy (Walter Brennan), and the young gunslinger Colorado (Ricky Nelson). Chance also forms a romance with a sassy young widow, Feathers (Angie Dickinson).

The movie works as a collection of successful Western tropes crafted together. This is not a criticism as not everything needs to me innovative to be good, just sometimes need to bring things that worked together in new ways.  I like the easy camaraderie among Chance, Dude, Stumpy, and Colorado.  Martin’s acting performance is particularly good in this film (and why has Robert Downey, Jr. not starred in a Dean Martin biopic?).  There’s a great scene where Rat Pack crooner Martin and teen idol Nelson sing a duet, a nice nod to the pop culture of the 1950s.  Angie Dickinson looks and acts like a 1950s woman, but somehow that works too.  And I think I’d love to see a movie where Brennan plays every character as his cackling old galoot.

All in all, Rio Bravo is better than I expected, and probably a great example of the classic Hollywood Western for a novice viewer, but it won’t be getting anywhere near my own all-time favorite movie list.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Reviews: L’Avventura (1960)


Title: L’Avventura
Release Date: 29 June 1960
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Production Company:
Cino Del Duca
Summary/Review:

Anna (Lea Massari) is a long-distance relationship with Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and meets up with him for a yachting trip in the Mediterranean with her friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) accompanying her.  The yachting party stops at a small, rocky island in the Aeolian chain.  Anna and Sandro have an argument and later Anna disappears.  The rest of the film is Claudia and Sandro searching for Anna even as everyone else in the party seems indifferent.

Anna is not missing for even 12 hours before Sandro begins aggressively making sexual advances on Claudia.  Because this is a movie made in the 60s in Italy, Claudia doesn’t kick Sandro in the groin as he deserves but instead gradually begins to reciprocate the attraction. And so their journey through Italy following hints of where Anna may have gone is also a romantic fling.

The film has a strong technical aspect filmed on location in stunning natural and human-built landscapes as the backgrounds and unique cinematographic approaches to filming in them.  I was glad that Claudia ended up being the main character after first thinking it would be Anna because Vitti is a much better actor.  Or to be more charitable, Claudia appears to the be the only female character in the film who is written as a complete human and Vitti seizes the opportunity to make the most of it.  Several times in the film Claudia and other women are surrounded by man who ogle them.  It seems to me that a theme of this movie is that men treat women as objects who are disposable and easily replaced.

Critics who favor L’Avventura tend to play up its influence on the visual language of cinema. Others say that it is pretentious and dull.  I tend to lean in the latter direction, but I also sense that this is one of those movies that can only be fully appreciated on the big screen.

Rating: **1/2

Classic Movie Review: Blue Velvet (1986)


Title: Blue Velvet
Release Date: September 19, 1986
Director: David Lynch
Production Company: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG)
Summary/Review:

I’ve long liked the work of David Lynch, but I missed this one so it was good to have an excuse to finally watch it.  The story tells of Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) who returns home from college to his hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina to help out when his father is hospitalized.  On a walk through the woods he finds a severed ear and becomes obsessed with discovering the mystery behind it.  The daughter of a police detective, Sandy Williams (a very young Laura Dern), informs him that the police suspect a singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) may be connected to the case.  Jeffrey begins to surveil Dorothy which leads him into a world of trouble.

I won’t go into the details but Jeffrey uncovers a criminal conspiracy lead by the extremely disturbed Frank (Dennis Hopper). I really enjoyed the first part of the movie when it was  a stylish noir mystery, but once Frank is revealed and Jeffrey is brought into his orbit I found it less interesting.  Frank is an amalgamation of every abusive, gaslighting, self-aggrandizing asshole I’ve ever know and I really don’t need to spend my time watching that.  I was also disappointed that both Dorothy and Sandy tended to fall into the “damsel in distress” trope.  There are reasons for that, but I think there were opportunities to have one of them seize initiative.

Overall though I appreciated that direction, cinematography, and overall mood of the film, which is aided by the selection of great music to fit the scenes.  The acting of all the leads is excellent, even Hopper as the all-too-convincing raging psychopath.  I’m really surprised to learn that Dern is about a decade younger than I realized.  I guess since she was making movies when I was in middle school it didn’t occur to me to realize she’s just a few years older than me.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Yi Yi (2000) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Y

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Yi Yi
Release Date: 5 May 200
Director: Edward Yang
Production Company: 1+2 Seisaku Iinkai | Atom Films | Basara Pictures |
Pony Canyon
Summary/Review:

Yi Yi is a family drama from the director of A Brighter Summer Day, and thankfully less bleak than that earlier film. It depicts the Jian family of Taipei, Taiwan: father NJ (Wu Nien-jen), mother Min-Min, early teenage daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee), and 8-year-old son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang).  The film begins at the wedding of Min-Min’s brother A-Di, introducing the main characters and setting up important plot threads. (Ever since I’ve watched The Godfather, I’ve noticed the whole “start the movie at a wedding” thing popping up in a lot of movies). At the wedding reception, NJ encounters Sherry (Su-Yun Ko), a romantic partner his university days, in the hotel lobby.  After the wedding, Mim Min’s mother suffers a stroke and ends up comatose.

The film does not have a straightforward plot, per se, but interweaves the four individual threads of the family members as they deal with their personal struggles.

  • NJ is unmotivated by his job but bonds with potential client from Japan, Mr. Ota.  On a business trip to Japan he reunites with Sherry and they have an emotional series of conversations over unresolved issues from their failed relationship.
  • Min-Min is overwhelmed by her mother’s coma and leaves for a Buddhist retreat.
  • Ting-Ting feels guilty because her grandmother collapsed doing Ting-Ting’s chore of taking out the trash. Ting-Ting talks to her comatose grandmother about her guilt and other concerns. She also befriends her neighbor Lili, and later briefly dates Lili’s ex-boyfriend, Fatty.  While not a member of the family, Lili’s life is also documented in the film apart from her interactions with Ting-Ting.
  • Yang-Yang, the MVP of this movie, is a shy kid who’s bullied by other kids and his teacher. He finds a way to express his creativity by taking photographs.
  • We also spend time with A-Di, who struggles financially, gets kicked out by his wife, gets back together with an ex-girlfriend, and hosts the worst possible baby shower imaginable.

The movie is beautifully filmed and most shots use the Ozustyle of keeping the camera still and a mid-distance rather than panning or zooming or using closeups. The acting is solid and naturalistic as well. Occasionally there are plot twists that feel a bit soap opera-ish, but largely is more about the patterns of ordinary life.  There are some joys and some sorrows but a lot just hovers in the middle.  Clocking at over 3 hours, it is a big time commitment to spend time with these people without a traditional story or payoff, but I think it’s worth it.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Touki Bouki (1973) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter T

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Touki Bouki
Release Date: May 1973
Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty
Production Company: Cinegrit | Studio Kankourama
Summary/Review:

Before the opening credits of Touki Bouki are finished, the film depicts the slaughter of cattle in graphic detail. So I knew this would be a tough film to watch.  In fact, slaughtering animals is a repeating motif of this film.  If you are squeamish, consider this your warning.

The nation of Senegal does not have an extensive film industry, but Touki Bouki  stands out as a highlight of the 1970s golden era of Senegalese cinema. The film draws influence from the French New Wave and relies on some deft editing.  Scenes from the present, past, and fantasy are intercut, with some images repeated multiple times in the film.  At times it feels as surreal as Un Chien Andalou and other times it feels like an music video from the 1980s. The edits create contrasts between natural and urban settings, the ancient and modern, and the African and colonised.

The story is about a young man, a cowherd named Mory (Magaye Niang) who drives a motorcycle with a cow skull on the handlebars, and a young woman, a university student named Anta (Mareme Niang).  They meet in Dakar and decide to run away together to Paris where they hope to make their fortune.  Much of the film depicts their attempts to steal the money they need to travel to Paris.  But really the plot is secondary to the imagery. I confess that I don’t quite “get” this movie, but I do appreciate what Mambéty is doing.

Rating: ****

 

Classic Movie Review: The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter S

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: The Spirit of the Beehive
Release Date: 8 October 1973
Director: Víctor Erice
Production Company: Elías Querejeta Producciones Cinematográficas S.L. | Jacel Desposito
Summary/Review:

Set in a small Castilian village just after the Spanish Civil War, The Spirit of the Beehive is a film that captures the intersection of childhood wonder and fantasy with grim realities.  If that description seems to fit Pan’s Labyrinth as well, then you won’t be surprised that Guillermo del Toro drew inspiration from this film.  Ana (Ana Torrent) is an adorable 6-year-old with a vivid imagination.  Her father (Fernando Fernán Gómez) is a beekeeper and writes extensively about bees.  Her mother (Teresa Gimpera) writes letters to distant lovers.  Neither of them seem to be all to involved in the lives of their children.

The film begins when a traveling movie show brings Frankenstein to the village.  Ana becomes entranced by Frankenstein’s monster, especially the scene when he kills the little girl. Ana’s older sister Isabel (Isabel Tellería) tells her that “Everything in the movies is fake” and that the monster didn’t kill the girl and that in fact he lives in a nearby sheep shed. Ana visits the sheep shed often and finding a wounded republican soldier hiding there, she brings him food and clothing.

The Spirit of the Beehive is set at the beginning of the Franco regime and was released shortly before Franco’s death. Erice gets a lot of credit for telling a story that is critical of Franco through metaphor and thus evading censorship.  But beyond the plot that I’ve summarized here, much of the film is more of a tone poem capturing the everyday wonders and fears of a young child.  It’s beautifully filmed and Ana Torrent’s performance is remarkable.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter O

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Once Upon a Time in the West
Release Date:  December 21, 1968
Director: Sergio Leone
Production Company: Euro International Film | Paramount Pictures |
Rafran Cinematografica | Finanzia San Marco
Summary/Review:

Sometime in the 1990s I watched The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, which I liked well enough, but never felt inspired to watch another Sergio Leone film or another “spaghetti western.”  So I went into watching Once Upon a Time in the West with no great expectations and ended up being absolutely surprised by how much I loved it.  It’s a slow-moving Western drama that often has limited dialogue and focuses on gorgeous scenery as much as the drama (much of the film was shot in Europe but there are scenes filmed in Monument Valley a la John Ford’s Stagecoach).  This may sound a little boring, but I found it to be mesmerizing.

According to Wikipedia, “Leone was far more interested in the rituals preceding violence than in the violence itself.”  This makes a whole lot of sense! The first two scenes of the movie are in fact big fakeouts as we spend a lot of time with a group of characters who seem to be the main characters of the movie, only for all of them to be shot and killed.  These two scenes, in fact, introduce the killers who are the film’s real main characters.  One is a mysterious man known only as “Harmonica” (Charles Bronson) who is set on the path of vengeance.  The other is a vicious gang leader, Frank (Henry Fonda), who is working for a railroad tycoon, Mr. Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) to get control of a plot of land that has a water source for the railroad. I find it absolutely stunning that Fonda plays a character that is so evil and is creepy A.F.!

Newlywed Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arrives to join her new family only to find they’ve all been murdered and she’s inherited the contested land.  With the help of Frank’s rival gang leader, Cheyenne (Jason Robards), she begins to develop the land while Frank and “Harmonica” carry on various machinations around her (this plot is a deliberate pastiche of Johnny Guitar).  The plot is complicated but it also seems secondary to the style for much of the movie where it’s more of a revelation from scene-to-scene.  The film also has a terrific score by the legendary Ennio Morricone.

I’m not a big fan of Westerns, but this film has definitely made my list of favorite Westerns!

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: Citizen Kane (1941) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter K

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Today is a bit of a cheat, as I technically post a third movie starting with the letter C, but you’ll excuse me because this is a great one!  Also, forgive me for publishing this a day late.

Title: Citizen Kane
Release Date: September 5, 1941
Director: Orson Welles
Production Company: Mercury Productions
Summary/Review:

By the time I was a teenager, I was already aware that Citizen Kane was considered “one of the greatest films of all time!” and watching it for the first time back then did not elicit contrarian opinions.  I watched it a few more times, but somehow like a lot of classic films I saw in my younger days, I didn’t watch it again for decades.  So it was great to have an excuse to revisit this movie.  What’s harder is trying to find something to say about Citizen Kane that hasn’t been said before.  It is the number one movie on the AFI’s 100 Years list and the Cahiers du Cinéma list, and number two on the Sight and Sound list.

Perhaps we’ll start with a quick summary. The movie is a pseudo-biopic of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), a wealthy, celebrity newspaper publisher based on real life figures like William Randolph Hearst. The story follows reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) as he tries to learn the meaning of the last word Kane uttered before his death, “Rosebud!”  We see several non-chronological scenes from Kane’s life told from the perspectives of people who knew him, none of whom are particularly reliable narrators.  In order we see an obituary newsreel, Thompson reading the personal diary of Kane’s childhood guardian and banker Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris), Kane’s business manager Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), Kane’s lifelong “frenemy” Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), and Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), and Kane’s butler Raymond (Paul Stewart).  In the final scene, the mystery of what Rosebud is revealed to the film viewers, but remains unknown to any of the characters.

With that said, here are some stray thoughts I have on Citizen Kane:

  • Apart from Welles and Cotten, none of the main cast were particularly famous or became famous later despite starring in “the greatest movie of all time.”  Alland is essentially the main character of this movie but he doesn’t seem all that well remembered (not least because the movie never shows a close-up of his face).
  • The movie is known for its innovation and technical brilliance but it also is wildly entertaining and relevant to watch today, which sets it apart from some other movies regarded for their innovation such as Battleship Potemkin.
  • Speaking of relevance, it actually really sad that 80 years later we still as a culture continue to idolize and prioritize the opinions of disgustingly wealthy people like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Rupert Murdoch, and Bill Gates. And if Kane’s campaign speech where he promises to imprison his opponent and his claims of fraud when he loses the election don’t remind  you of a certain loathsome person, I don’t know what to say.
  • Watching it this time it really hit be just how cruelly Kane treats Susan and it hits really hard.
  • That being said, the scene where Kane entertains Susan to distract her from her toothache is really sweet and maybe the moment where Kane is depicted with the most humanity.
  • Someday I need to rewatch this film and explore it from an archivist’s perspective.  The scene in Thatcher’s library and Leland saving Kane’s “statement of principles” are particularly interesting depictions of people’s’ relationship with records.
  • If you’re interested in learning more about the aspects of Citizen Kane that make it “great,” I’d recommend reading Roger Ebert’s “A Viewer’s Companion to Citizen Kane.
  • Kane slow-clapping for Susan at the opera house is an oft-used GIF on Twitter, but really this movie could be mined for so many more GIFs.

 

Rating: *****

Classic Movie Review: Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter J

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Release Date: May 14, 1975
Director: Chantal Akerman
Production Company: Paradise Films | Unité Trois
Summary/Review:

I believe this is the first Belgian film I have ever watched.  The 3 hour, 21 minute film details the life of a woman, Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig), go through the ordinary routine of her life in minute detail over a period of three days. Jeanne cleans the house, cooks, bathes, goes shopping, babysits, spends time with her teenage son (Jan Decorte), runs errands, and receives men in her bedroom who pay her for sex.  Sometimes she also sits in a chair for a long time as well. She is so very precise about everything she does that when little things start to go wrong it is very jarring. This film is the slowest of burns all leading to … something I won’t say.

The film adopts the style of Yasujirō Ozu (Tokyo Story, Late Spring), where the camera remains stationary throughout and there are only cuts between scenes. With a woman director, Chantal Akerman, and a crew made up mostly of women, the film is a feminist statement on the invisibility of women’s work in movies (and in real life).  The film provokes a lot of questions, such as does it matter if a movie is technically brilliant and innovative if it ends up being extremely boring? Or, it there art in the verisimilitude of life, or should art transcend ordinary life?

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Ivan the Terrible (1944)



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter I

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Ivan the Terrible
Release Date: December 30, 1944
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Production Company: Mosfilm
Summary/Review: Ivan the Terrible is an odd duck.  It ranks #39 on the Cahiers du Cinéma list and has appeared on past editions of the Sight and Sound list but it was also included in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and How They Got That Way). It was directed by the legendary film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin), but it was made at the behest of the cruel dictator Joseph Stalin.  Roger Ebert gives the film his top 4-star rating but his review is less enthusiastic and full of caveats.

Like Children of Paradise, this film is an epic historical drama made at a time when the nation was fighting the Nazi threat to all of Europe.  It tells the story of Ivan IV (Nikolay Cherkasov) who as Tsar united disparate fiefdoms under Moscow to create the first Russian empire.  The film begins with Ivan’s coronation in 1547 and a speech in which declares his intentions to bring all of Russia under his control, much to the annoyance of the boyars who were kind of oligarchy of aristocrats used to doing things their own way. Thus the palace intrigue begins.  Ivan marries Anastasia (Lyudmila Tselikovskaya) and they produce an heir, which further enrages the boyars.  War, betrayal, and dramatic death bed scenes ensue.

The performances in the film are very stagey, as if this were some kind of pageant rather than a drama. It is also reminds of  The Scarlet Empress, from the large-scale furnishings and overwhelming shadows to the general over-the-top nature of the performances. While The Scarlet Empress was a Hollywood spectacle about the Russian monarchy, it seems strange that Russian filmmakers would depict their own history in such a campy way.  Eisenstein made a second part to Ivan the Terrible that displeased Stalin so it would not be released until 1958.  A third part was abandoned while in production for the same reason.  So it’s an unfinished epic a lot like Napoléon (except that Ivan actually had military success in Russia).

I suppose I’m supposed to watch both Part 1 & Part 2, but as I didn’t enjoy the first part all too much, and I have 27 movies to watch this April, I’m going to give Part 2 a pass.

Rating: **1/2