the bridge on the river kwai

December 31, 2008

“do not speak to me of rules. this is war! this is not a game of cricket!”

i love the way the film positions the viewer throughout.  we are constantly shifting from one character’s story to another, and their views and actions on war and life couldn’t be more different.  i love seeing the way that it portraits the two main officers in the film, nicholson (alec guiness) and saito (sessue hayakawa).  we see nicholson as a starch old war veteran, who absolutely refuses to lose his principle.  after being brought into the prisoner of war camp he stands up for what he believes in, and in a pivotal scene he refuses to make his officers work because of the geneva convention.  then the huge face-off between him and saito begins.  when nicholson eventually wins over the weaker minded japanese officer, he then takes up saito’s one plight.  he decides to build the bridge for the enemy, and not only that but he wants to put effort and achievement into it.

shears (william holden) on the other hand, wants nothing to do with the war.  he escapes from the prisoner of war camp only to be dragged back into the mix by circumstances beyond his control.  which seems to be a theme in the film.  characters are controlled by things beyond their own authority and sometimes even understanding.  nicholson gets so wrapped up in the building of the bridge that by the end of the film he’s found himself saying “what have i done?”.  saito is being put under intense scrutiny by his commanding officers to get the bridge built in a certain amount of time, or he will commit suicide.  they all find themselves striving for a goal (or being pushed back into the war), by things they cannot fully understand or command.

all the performances are really top notch, and i guess guiness won the oscar for his role.  will holden is a lot of fun just like he was in stalag 17, and it was nice to see him bring some levity to the film.  and throughout the film i kept getting the feeling that i was just watching classic cinema.  the performances are all hitting, the script moves fluidly, the cinematography is great and epic.  the same feeling i get when i watch something like the treasure of the sierra madré, of just knowing that you are watching something great.  it has that inescapable quality that cinema has of something magical.


tcc: frost/nixon

December 31, 2008

“i’m saying that when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal!”

i missed (or haven’t caught up with) frank langella’s very praised performance in 2007’s starting out in the evening, and to be honest wasn’t too interested in catching up with it.  i don’t know what it was, but something from the preview and just the way langella looked screamed boring to me.  he seemed so rigid, so much like he was performing for the camera.  and that’s what i thought i was going to get going into frost/nixon as well.  a man “performing” richard nixon for me.  but what langella does is so much more.

at first i was a little underwhelmed by him.  i thought it was just going to be two hours of a guy doing his best nixon impersonation, but he really transforms the role as the film goes on.  once we get into the interview scenes (the real meat of the film), langella becomes so enveloped by the character that i was completely drawn in by him.  he’s magnetic and sympathetic and distant and callous at the same time.  langella express more in a close-up than any other actor this year.  you can feel nixon’s remorse and pain over everything he’s gone through in langella’s face.

and all that would be enough to recomend the film alone, but i think there are great performances all around.  michael sheen i thought really held his own in the scenes with him and langella.  i believe he would be considered the leading role in this film, and he plays his scenes strong enough that there is depth and emotion to them and they get us to where we need to be for their final showdown.

and the final showdown might be the most adreline soaked moment of the year (even in the year of the dark knight).  not having a lot of prior knowledge as to the contents of the interviews, i was on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to be said.  but even if you do know what nixon said i think the film delivers at this moment.  and it’s mostly because of langella.  he brings it, and the movie greatly benefits because of it.  he turns in one of the best performances of the year, and has now excited me to go back and check out some of his other work.

“my name is benjamin button.  and i was born under unusual circumstances.”

seldom does a film (that i see in the theater) leave me speechless afterwards.  the last time i can remember is after seeing children of men.  after the film was over, i felt like i had just been punched in the stomach (but in a good way…..if that’s possible).  i just wanted to sit in the theater for 30 minutes until the next screening started and watch the film all over again.  the only thing that stopped me that time was that my car was in the shop and i was driving my mom’s, and she needed it.

the curious case of benjamin button is the first time since then that i’ve had the same reaction to the film.  i was completely wowed by the films visual artistry.  fincher weaves the film like it’s a poem.  going in and out of flashbacks, and flashbacks within the flashbacks, in and out of different narrative point of views, and in and out of sublime and fantastic and the now and real.  i sat in the theater dumbfounded at what i had just witnessed.  wanting to sit in the theater until the next screening started it took me a while to realize that it was an advanced screening and there wouldn’t be another one for a week.

fincher is quite possibly the best director working today (and i feel like i say that a lot, but after seeing this film i really mean it).  his vision for a film that sweeps time periods, genres and time frames, and is able to remain authentic and small at the same time is amazing.  the make-up in this film is also remarkable.  make-up is not something i usually comment on (or take notice of really…i think i left that nomination and vote blank in last year’s filmspots).  but the make-up in this film is able to take brad pitt, a man in his mid-40s, and makes him look 15.  and it’s breathtaking!

i don’t know how many times i almost lost it during the film.  there are images (the first one that comes to mind is when the very old cate blanchett is walking the very young brad pitt and they stop and kiss) and moments that have so much emotion i don’t know what to do with them.  and they’re not just you’re normal pull-at-your-heart-strings kind of moments, but ones i don’t know how to handle.  i cannot understand or sort out how the film makes me feel, and that makes me love it even more.

there are a lot of scenes that i want to discuss, but this film is pretty much unseen by most of the public (i’m actually ahead of the curve on this one!), so i don’t want to spoil anything.  i might go a little more in depth on some scenes i love more in the 2008 round-up.  and by in depth i mean….”do you remember when…ummm….when in that benjamin button movie…when benjamin..umm…he did that thing?  do you remember that?  that was awesome.”

i just feel like the film is so complex, and so emotionally deep, that it warrants multiple viewings to even be semi-realized.  i don’t think i even grasp the cusp of what fincher was going for here, and that excites me.

it’s a wonderful life

December 25, 2008

“strange, isn’t it? each man’s life touches so many other lives. when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

it’s hard to believe that i had gone this long and never seen this film, especially when you consider how much it’s played around christmas time.  you, the reader, have probably already seen the film.  possibly more than once.  this seems like the kind of film that everyone has seen (and after viewing it, i would say should see).

jimmy stewart my favorite actor, and it’s a wonder that i’ve never seen the film that he often cited as his own personal favorite.  he’s a man that so often wore his heart on his sleeve, and in his films always took a stand for something that was right and just, and this film was no different.

very few films, especially today, have such unadulterated passion for life.  it’s amazing to think how hard this film really struck me.  to be able to see life, without you in it, is a very profound idea.  i don’t know how many times i thought about what a difference i really make in this world that seems to pass you by so quickly.   but it’s our own selfishness that hides the fact that we do make a difference.  we matter, in a world that likes to say otherwise.  we matter to those that love us, to our friends and family, and that’s the greatest thing ever.

i loved the final scene of the film; all the people of the town coming to george’s aid, giving away their money to save a man who so often saved them.  (excuse the obvious cliché) that is the true meaning of christmas.  to not be tied down by earthly things, but to give and love because those things are right and pure and eternal.  those are the things that matter, not whether you have a great job or are pulling in the big paycheck.  it’s so rare that a film will line up with my ideals and be a great film at the same time.  but this film just hit every note perfectly.  it put the emphasis on love and family and giving.  and films today tend to shy away from one or two or all three of these things, things that we should be thinking about every moment, every day.

stalag 17

December 19, 2008

“there are two people in this barracks who know i didn’t do it. me and the guy that did do it.

i’m always surprised how much i like billy wilder’s films, specifically his comedies.  his ridiculous premises, his outrageous characters, whatever it is.  i always think going in that i’m going to be watching something old and outdated, and the comedy is not going to translate.  but i’m always presently surprised at how much i really enjoy it.  so would this trend continue with stalag 17?

first of all, i was unaware that i was going to be watching a comedy.  i wasn’t really prepared for it, and the movie doesn’t really start out with a riot when the two potential escapees get caught and shot. but the film turns a corner after that into some absurd comedy situations.  but it tows that line very well between drama and comedy, which was gave me a sigh of relief.  i wasn’t sure i could handle 120 minutes of knee slapping jabs at wwII prisoner of war camps.  i was also just really shocked when i thought about how soon after the heals of wwII this film was made.  the film came out in 1953 just 8 years after the end of the second world war, and i bet for audiences at the time the film seemed very edgy.

bill holden is great as the fiendish entrepreneur of the barracks.  seeing his different set-ups and schemes to make “money” was quite enjoyable. i love films where characters take a 180 in the audience’s perception.  it plays with our preconceptions of how the movie is supposed to look like and our expectations for how characters are supposed to act.  so seeing how wilder turns will holden’s character from hated to sympathetic was really amazing.  i loved that wilder doesn’t reveal more than we need to know.  he slowly slowly introduces us to the characters of the barracks and transforms the character’s perceptions.

and while the comedy element is there, there are moments of real suspense and sometimes even terror.  some of the interactions with the nazi officers are truly grounding in a film that often doesn’t stay too close to the surface.  both elements work well together, to make one of the more interesting films i’ve seen.

so yes, i was fairly surprised that at how much i enjoyed the film.  going in i thought i was going to get an honest look at world war two priosner of war camps, then an outrageous comedy playing on some of our preconcieved notions of war and nazis, and then wound up watching something that was a mixture of the two.

tcc: slumdog millionaire

December 17, 2008

“something about ru-peeees”

i’ll start with what i liked about.  i thought the entire narrative device of framing the story of the main characters life through the questions on the game show and how his life experience had given him the answers to each question was really interesting (that was a very long and convoluted sentence, but hey i just got out of fall semester so my mind is not really focused on using proper grammar).

i loved all the back story with the little little kids.  the youngest three kids were the best of the actors of all the different age groups (if you’ve seen the movie then you know what i’m talking about).  but unfortunately i think the oldest set of actors are the worst of the three groups combined.  the main character, played by dev patel, is ok but not great.  but i was with the film for the better part of the picture.  then the end rolls around…..

and i lost pretty much all the enthusiasm i had for it.  i don’t know what i was expecting, but just to see how contrived the ending is and the awful dialogue that accompanies it really sucked the joy out of the film for me.  the last 20-30 minutes are so bad that i’m upset that this film is getting all the award buzz it is receiving.  i almost wouldn’t care as much if i hadn’t been so much with the film for the first 2/3’s.  but to be sucked out of the experience of the movie and put into the schmaltz of the final scene ruins it, and just solidifies my sneaking suspicion that danny boyle has no idea how to end films and is the most overrated director working today.  don’t get me wrong, the guy has some skill.  but he really needs an intervention or something about the last 1/3 of his films.  someone get the man a structure book or something.

tcc: shotgun stories

December 4, 2008

“you raised us to hate those boys, and we do, and now it’s come to this.”

i rented this film from the library maybe a month or so ago.  as i do often, it came in with a slew of other dvds, sat next to the dvd player for 2 weeks, and then went back to the library without ever leaving the case.  it wasn’t that i wasn’t interested.  i remember watching the trailer a while ago and being intrigued, but i just sort of lost enthusiasm for it i guess.

jump to early last week.  in preparation for filmspots 08 i went through all the available dvds of 08 films that i had not seen that had gotten good critical reception, and shotgun stories returned to the shelf next to the dvd player…..only this time it left its case.  and i’m really glad it did.

son, boy, and kid hayes are three brothers living in small-town america in the gothic south.  a town that is very reminiscent of the world of david gordon green (george washington, all the real girls), who was a producer on the film.  son is married, but his wife has left with their son to stay with her mother.  kid is living in a tent outside son’s house, works at a burger joint, and wants to get married to his current girlfriend but is afraid she’ll say no because he doesn’t own a pickup.  boy is living in a van down by the river.  no seriously.  he lives in his van and parks in a valley right next to a river.

and it may sound ridiculous in writing, but what first time director jeff nichols does is amazing.  he infuses these almost ridiculous set ups, with completely raw and broken characters.  they are still tormented from their childhood, but the film never slows down to tell you why.  you just know that something bad went down with their father and their mother, who son refers to as a “hateful woman”.  they are not stereotypes or one dimensional.  they only speak when they should, and are poised with quiet reflection.

when their mother comes to visit them, the distance between them is palpable.  she plainly tells them that their father is dead, that they can find the arrangements in the paper, and that she will not be at the funeral.  everything you need to know about their past comes out in this quick exchange.  and that’s what makes nichols’ direction so great.  he doesn’t pander to the audience, but rather sets up a scene and lets the action speak for itself.

son, boy, and kid then go to the funeral and are confronted by their father’s “new” family, and asked to leave.  but son has to get something off his chest.  he proceeds to tell his father’s other family that was not in fact a good person.  that just because he sobered up and got religious it didn’t make him a better person.  then he spits on the casket and a fight breaks out.

what evolves out of this is very reminiscent of a shakespearean tragedy.  two feuding families, where by the end it seems inevitable that everyone is going to end up dead.  nichols fills the film with this very foreboding feeling the rest of the way.  every scene has dark undertones to it, and the way nichols slowly fills out the rest of the film is great.  he doesn’t rush to a pay-off but lets the film evolve naturally.

the film is one of the best of the year at setting a tone and a place, and keeping it even throughout.  all of the performances from the brothers are fantastic, especially the role of son hayes (played by michael shannon).  i was really captivated every time he would open his mouth and deliver a line.  he had a real presence and feeling for the character which made it all the more real.

definitely rush out and rent the dvd, and don’t miss one of the best films of 2008.

director’s page

December 3, 2008

in an attempt to make back catalogue navigating easier, i’ve installed a new page which i’ve seen on a few other blogs.


every film write-up sorted by the director.  enjoy catching up on all the posts you’ve missed.