Thursday, January 21, 2010

#97: Blade Runner

(Note: I've been away for a while due to school, work, the holidays and a ridiculous amount of other factors, but am working on getting back on track starting right now, so bear with me.)

A few years ago, I sat down to watch Ridley Scott's popular sci-fi film, Blade Runner, and after 30 minutes or so, I turned it off. I was bored, as was my father who was watching it with me. Today, after watching the whole thing through, my perception of it has gone up (there's something called a story that I never got around to the first time), but truth be told, I was still relatively bored. Everybody has a few of those critically lauded films that they don't like. Blade Runner is one of mine.

Now, there are about 136 versions of Blade Runner available and I can only assume that the one on the AFI Top 100 list is the theatrical version. However, I only had access to the Director's Cut, though from what I hear the difference in quality is minimal and this cut was what the film was supposed to be in the first place, so take with that what you will.

The film is set not too far off from present day, 2019, where a handful of replicants, biologically engineered human-like beings that work on other planets, have trekked down to Earth. Doing this is against the law and people known as Blade Runners find them and kill them, though they don't call this a "death." They call it a "retirement." Harrison Ford plays Deckard and he is tasked with tracking down the replicants after one murders another Blade Runner.

Ridley Scott is a masterful director. There's no doubting that. His impressive resume shows films like Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, American Gangster and his other sci-fi epic, Alien. But when comparing the latter film with Blade Runner, I can't help but find myself leaning enthusiastically toward Alien, which is one of my favorite films of all time. In my opinion, Blade Runner lacked the excitement and tension that Alien had. It moved at a snail's pace featuring a ton of exposition about a story I cared little about. The last 30 minutes is the exception to the rule. It was exciting and it kept my heart rate up, even if it did take a few liberties with time and space.

I don't know what else to say really. When I look at this and Alien side by side, two of the most critically acclaimed science fiction films of all time, I find myself wondering why it's so popular. Its futuristic setting now looks relatively modern (digital ads on roadway signs is commonplace now) and it shows its age. Alien, on the other hand, is still as riveting as it always was and its futuristic setting is still just as wondrous and unique. If you ask me, the alien design far exceeds anything that what was accomplished in Blade Runner. Is it a bad movie? No, of course not, but it's not one I'll be returning to anytime soon.

-Joshua Hylton

Saturday, January 2, 2010

THE GRADUATE - Seductive Genius!

"Are you here for an affair sir?" - The hotel receptionist talking to Dustin Hoffman's character in the 1967 classic, "The Graduate". That line is just so classic and brilliant. I literally feel bad that I have lived 25 years and never took the time to sit down and watch this masterpiece of cinema.

I can hardly contain myself right now. I know that I am 43 years late but I am going to say it anyways. THE GRADUATE is truly one of the greatest films ever made. One minute ago, the credits started rolling and I hopped on my computer to type out my feelings.

First of all, let me say that the film is GENIUS, SEDUCTIVE, BRILLIANT, FUNNY, BAD-ASS, INTENSE and HOT at the exact same time. Mike Nichols directs the film in such a way that even the simplest of scenes has an intense edge to it. There were times wheres I felt so agitated for Dustin Hoffman's character that I almost had to get off the couch and walk around. During the first 20 minutes or so of the film, his character was just so uncomfortable. He has this stress level to him that makes the audience feel so agitated. You can 100% feel this while his parents dress him up in that scuba-diving suit. As I sit here typing this, I am re-watching the opening sequence where he lands in that airport and is on that escalator traveling through the airport. Simon and Garfunkel's classic "The Sound of Silence" is playing in the background as there is a voice telling people how to ride the escalator. That already shows the agitation of the character.

As he gets home to attend his graduation party, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), asks for a ride home. At first, he seems a bit reluctant, but like everything else in his life, he is talked into it. Hoffman's character never really thought for himself until the incident with Mrs. Robinson. She essentially breaks him down.

After having the affair that no one was supposed to know about, he then takes Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross) out on a date, against Mrs. Robinson's wishes. Obviously, she is jealous that he will fancy her daughter over her. He ends up falling in love with Elaine and the situation gets a bit messy.

Hoffman's character stated in the beginning that he wanted his future to be different. You can tell that he doesn't want to follow the normal path and as you watch the film, his life takes many different awkward turns.

Let me first talk about Mike Nichol's direction. It honestly felt like I was just watching a real story unfold. I didn't feel like I was watching a piece of cinema, but a documentary on a real life story. For example, in the beginning of the film, Hoffman's father is talking to him about coming downstairs for his graduation party. In walks his mother and she just walks right in front of the camera and stands there talking to both Hoffman and the father. All we see on screen is her dress covering the entire frame. It was as if Nichols didn't care about the audience. The story would go on regardless.

Another shot that blew me away was at the Taft Hotel, where he first has sex with Mrs. Robinson. As he anxiously waits for her, he is snooping around the lobby and he walks over to the reception desk. We view this conversation he has with the hotel receptionist through a piece of wood on the desk. Again, it was if the camera didn't exist. We were seeing the story through Hoffman's eyes.

Throughout the film we are treated to a couple of fantastic Simon and Garfunkel songs that fit the film brilliantly. There is a beautiful song that plays throughout a montage sequence as he is trying to win Elaine back. The song was entitled "Scarborough Fair" and the lyrics stuck with me throughout the entire film.

Some issues I had with the film actually worked themselves out at the end. Throughout the movie, I felt the arcs that characters went through were sometimes a bit unrealistic. For example, when he takes out Elaine for the first time, he tries to be a complete dick to her because he doesn't want to piss off Mrs. Robinson. He then notices her tears as he takes her to a strip club and immediately apologizes which is followed with a kiss. He then somehow immediately falls in love with her. At the time I was watching it, I thought to myself that it was a bit quick. Though, as the movie went out, it all made sense. There was no path for this character. Everything happened for a reason and he just knew that she was the one. We didn't need a build up. They both knew they were meant for each other. The drama ensues when he has to tell her about the affair with her mother. His trek to win her back though is a like an action movie of it's own. Each time he was driving in that little red car, I felt so much emotion for him. What was weird is that Hoffman's face never really said much. He just carried a lot of weight in his face. You never really knew what his character was thinking.

I wanted nothing more than for he and Elaine to be together and he would stop at absolutely nothing to be with her. There are so many intense scenes between Ben and Mrs. Robinson, Ben and Mr. Robinson and Ben and Elaine. I felt a knot in my stomach the entire film.

Neither Ben nor Eliane ever knew what they truly wanted in life. They just knew they wanted to be together and we see in the last scene of the film that everything else in the world doesn't matter. Ben was the happiest with Elaine.

Some of my favorite aspects of the film were the little things. Throughout the film, we start to hear little notes and guitar riffs leading up to the classic Simon and Garfunkel song "Mrs. Robinson." As the film is coming to a close, the song is finally heard in it's glorious full form. As the climax of the song his and then calms down, there is a bit where the guitar is just chugging along. Ben stops at a gas station for directions and then drives off without getting gas. As the guitar riff slowly chugs to an end, so does his car. He runs out of the gas at the tune of the guitar riff. Simple and subtle, yet genius. I also really enjoyed the nervous noises Ben would make in the beginning of the film, as he was getting used to the fact that he was having an affair with a married woman.

Every aspect of the film worked. All in all, it's a rather chaotic movie. There is truly never direction for any of the characters, which I really loved. I wish more movies followed this formula. As it really threw me off at times.

I want to watch this movie again and again.

-Kevin McCarthy

A Change in Pace

Hey everyone. I apologize for being lazy and not updating this blog as of late. The last couple of months of the year are tough because movie studios are shoving tons of flicks down our throats for award season, which I love because it forces me to watch a ton of movies in a short period of time. The original plan was that Josh and I were going to simply watch all 100 films together and write blogs after each film. That is a bit of an issue because I live in Tysons and he now lives in Fredericksburg.

Therefore, we are now going to watch the movies separately and I have decided that I am going to watch them out of order. To be honest, sometimes I am just in the mood for a certain type of film. Today, I was randomly at home and I had just recently purchased the Blu-Ray for NORTH BY NORTHWEST. I have now watched and I am going to post my thoughts in the next posting. I have also already seen THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE MALTESE FALCON, which Josh and I watched together.

I believe Josh is going to continue the countdown in order.

Thanks for stopping by,

Kevin McCarthy

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

#98: Yankee Doodle Dandy

Just two posts ago, I detailed how much I was dreading watching Ben-Hur because of its insufferable length and my fear of its inability to hold up over time. I was happy to report that my fear was unwarranted and the length did little to detract from the overall picture. Now here we are, only two movies later and I've just finished watching the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy, yet another movie I was none too anxious to sit through.

Now, I love James Cagney. I've seen a number of his films, one of my favorites being The Public Enemy. He was an immense talent, but I wasn't so sure I was ready to see him sing and dance to overly patriotic musical compositions. My head is so chock full of memories of Cagney as the young gangster Tom Powers that the thought of him putting on tap shoes seemed almost degrading. Of course, yet again, I was completely wrong. I loved Yankee Doodle Dandy and Cagney's performance is outstanding, perfectly complementing the picture's patriotic tone and show stealing grandeur.

The film is based on the real life of George M. Cohan, a young actor who worked, as he put it, in "legitimate theater" and whose plays overran Broadway in the early 1900's (as evidenced by his pseudonym, "The Man Who Owns Broadway").

I won't go into too much plot detail because Kevin has done a good enough job of that in his post below, but Cohan's plays were of the "America first" type, with ample flag waving and patriotic pride. In fact, a little research shows that the attacks on Pearl Harbor occurred only a few days into shooting, so the filmmakers purposely aimed to make a patriotic film, and its release was even timed for around Memorial Day. Their approach succeeded. I finished this movie feeling good about my country, loving it and feeling thankful for those who have died for my freedom.

Nevertheless, for a movie to elicit that type of feeling, it must be good. You can try all you want, but if your movie stinks, your message is lost. Well, Yankee Doodle Dandy is excellent and I was enamored with it for its 2+ hour runtime. The songs are terrific (and instantly recognizable due to their cultural significance), the dances are impressive and fun to watch and the spectacle of the plays is a sight to behold. There were dozens of scenes where we would be shown a snippet of a play and I found myself wanting to watch every last one.

Coming up soon on the AFI Top 100 list are movies like Pulp Fiction, Do the Right Thing, and Goodfellas, three films I have already seen and love. Although there won't be too many upcoming surprises, Ben-Hur and Yankee Doodle Dandy have taught me to keep an open mind and give each film a chance because you never know, it might actually be good.

-Joshua Hylton

Monday, November 23, 2009

#98 - YANKEE DOODLE DANDY - Not just a stupid Black/White musical

As Josh and I were watching "Yankee Doodle Dandy", his roommate came home, immediately looked at the T.V. and said "This movie already sucks." Now, whether or not he was joking is up for interpretation but in my opinion, that is a common thought that goes through most young people's minds when they see a black/white film. Please don't get me wrong here though, as I am not trying to pigeon hold all people. I will be the first to admit that growing up, I thought black and white films were pointless. That there was no need for me to watch them and that they were for "old people." Well, that is why I am doing this countdown with my pal Josh. After each film, I am learning more and more how wrong I was when I was a child.

First of all, let me say that James Cagney portrayed one of the finest performances I have ever seen on camera (He did win the Oscar for Best Actor in 1942). I have never seen a person move the way that guy did. His tap dancing, singing and rhythm were absolutely perfect! Not to mention that ever song this guy, George M. Cohan, wrote was a classic! Everything from "Over There" to "Yankee Doodle Dandy" were all masterpieces!

This was honestly one of the first black & white movies I have ever seen that I watched with a blind eye. Not for one second during the film did I think of the film being in black & white. It just came across as a wonderful story about success on the big screen. The story is both heartfelt, funny and musically genius. Every time a song came on screen, Josh and I were tapping our feet and bobbing our heads. You couldn't help do that considering how catchy the film is.

I understand that many people in this day and age will look at a film like this, initially, and write it off. Trust me, I was not looking forward to watching it because of that bias that I had. But now, I just feel stupid and uneducated. This movie truly made me appreciate all types of cinema, even if it is a guy singing and tap dancing; which by the way was truly mind blowing.

If you are not familiar with the story, the film follows the "Four Cohans", which was a family that traveled all across the country in the late 1800's/early 1900's, singing and dancing. Their goal was to get picked up by a major theater circuit and make a living off of it. Their son, George M. Cohan, was always a stubborn kid. He knew he was the greatest and didn't take crap from anyone. It got to the point where he became blacklisted on the Broadway circuit. He finally found a way to get back in and then went on to become of the greatest playwright's in history.

There are a couple of scenes that I wanted to point out that really blew me away. There is a great scene where George Cohan is walking outside of one of his theaters where one of his new plays is opening. A man is standing outside criticizing the play, even though he has not seen it. The man is going on and on about how Eddie Foy (who is a competing playwright) is much better. Cohan walks up and starts talking to the man, as if he is someone else. Cohan is talking about how amazing George M. Cohan is and the mysterious man is talking about how amazing Eddie Foy is. Neither know that each of them are talking about themselves. It was a very cleverly written scene that took me by surprise. It just proved to me that the same comedy and wit we see in movies today, also happened back in the 40's.

I am so pleased that I have now seen this film and after I finish this list of the Top 100 Films, I want to go back and watch more James Cagney films.

On that note, I will end my review saying that "My mother thanks you...My father thanks you...My sister thanks you and I thank you" Goodnight!

-Kevin McCarthy

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

#99 - "TOY STORY" - The beginning of Pixar

I actually had the lucky pleasure of seeing "Toy Story" about a month ago in digital 3D and I must say that the animation still holds up today. Josh and I sat down and watched the film again tonight, to keep up with our journey of AFI's TOP 100 FILMS. We are doing the 2007 updated list, in which films like "Toy Story" were added.

Josh brought up a great point tonight during the film saying that it was the first "fully computer animated film" to come out. That is so odd to hear, considering how flooded we are nowadays with computer animation. It has almost gotten to the point where I am sick of seeing them. We were talking tonight about how we can't wait to see "Disney's The Princess and the Frog" because it will be hand drawn and a throwback to the 2D animation days.

What you have to appreciate about "Toy Story" are the huge improvements it made in the movie business. You may find this a bit extreme, but I compare the film to "Citizen Kane." What? How could I do such a thing? How could I down grade the masterpiece that is "Citizen Kane"? Well, here me out. Personally, I feel that "Citizen Kane," much like "Toy Story", had a massive impact on film making. "Citizen Kane" started a whole new style of film making that included deep focus, cameras going through objects, etc. "Toy Story" revolutionized how we make animated films. Instead of doing them hand drawn, let's just create digital characters instead. Now, with that being said, I would say that "Citizen Kane" is NOT the greatest movie of all time and "Toy Story" is not the greatest animated movie ever. Though, I admire what each did for cinema.

Josh pointed this out in his post as well, but there truly has been better animated films. My favorite animated film of all time is probably "Wall-E." That movie struck a chord with me in ways that live action films do. Wall-e's character came off a real person, even though he had minimal dialogue and was mini robot. The genius behind it was how the film makers brought him to life. I would go as far to say that "Toy Story" is my least favorite of the Pixar films. You can kill me for saying this but I loved "Cars" and I have to say that "The Incredibles" is definitely up there as a close tie for first.

I just really enjoyed how smart and clever this film was. Josh and I were talking after we saw it in theaters about how timeless it is. This film will never get old. Now, when I was a kid, I never really thought about what my toys did when I left the house. I was more curious about what my dog was doing. Did he talk to other objects in the house? But I guess, it is a very interesting concept to think about. Do your toys and things move about the house when you are not there?

I can't end this post without mentioning the music by Randy Newman. That song is that plays throughout the film is about as famous as the film itself.

There are two quick things I want to point out that kind of bugged me as I re-watched the film. 1) If Buzz (Tim Allen) thinks he is the real Buzz Lightyear and not a toy, why does he freeze when he's around humans, like the other toys? 2) I felt that it was a demonic for a kids film to have Woody (Tom Hanks) do the "Exorcist" head spin when he was trying to freak out the kid who always blew up toys. That just seemed a bit excessive to me.

I guess "Toy Story" was a blessing and a curse. It spawned an entire new age of film making but we have seen too many of them and the special nature of these films is starting to wear thin. It was great to back and watch the one that started it all!

-Kevin McCarthy

#99: Toy Story

Glancing through this AFI Top 100 list Kevin and I are counting down, I spot a good amount of movies I've already seen. I even spot some I saw as a kid, like The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, but to me, seeing them as a kid doesn't necessarily mean I grew up with them. To qualify as a movie I "grew up with," it has to be something I watched countless times over the course of my childhood. There isn't a single movie on the list that falls into that category, except #99, Toy Story.

It's easy to see why this film is on the AFI Top 100 list. Part of their criteria is technical achievement and Toy Story deserves to be on the list for that alone. It was the first movie ever to be fully computer animated, sparking the new trend that is modern animation. Now it seems every week a new computer animated movie is being released and that is thanks to Toy Story.

However, its success didn't stem from its (at the time) lush visuals alone. It was an excellent movie to boot that perfectly captured the imagination of a child. One of the reasons I was so enamored with it, in fact, is because I used to wonder what my toys did when I left them. Did they come to life and play with each other? Did they eagerly await my return? I even tried telling them they could talk to me, hoping one would pop up and be my companion much in the way Hobbes was to Calvin in the excellent comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. Perhaps that is why I loved Toy Story so much.

Now, that doesn't mean it hasn't been eclipsed in recent years. If you ask me what the best computer animated movies are, I'm more likely to express my admiration for Wall-E or Finding Nemo and maybe even Monsters Inc. Heck, its sequel Toy Story 2 was better, but that doesn't prevent Toy Story from getting the recognition it deserves.

Pixar created a masterpiece with Toy Story (they're up to 10 masterpieces at the time being) and although I wouldn't call it the best computer animated movie ever, it's certainly up there and more than earns its spot on this list for its technical achievement and historical significance.

-Joshua Hylton