Category Archives: Best Director

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

 People say that if you don’t love America, then get the hell out. Well, I love America.

— Ron Kovic

Memorial Day was a while ago and I wanted to see the picture that nabbed Tom Cruise his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, Born on the Fourth of July. I saw this a while ago, but I haven’t had the chance to write the review until now. The movie did win Oliver Stone the Best Director Oscar.

Based on the true story of Ron Kovic (Cruise), a man who comes from an extremely religious background, was a wrestler in high school and wanted to be part of something greater than himself. When a Marine Corps recruiter shows up at the school, Ron almost jumps at the chance of signing up and going to fight in Vietnam.

The action cut to Ron’s second tour when his platoon shot up a Vietcong village, but they accidentally killed women and children. They realize that it was ruse for the Vietcong to have the opening salvo on the Americans. During the confusion of sand and bullets, Ron ends up shooting one of his fellow soldiers, PFC Wilson (Michael Compotaro). Ron tries to confess what happened, but his superiors brush the incident under the rug.

In another altercation, Ron is shot in the foot and then in the upper chest, paralyzing him from the mid-chest down. He resides in a VA hospital in the Bronx that looks like a slum then a place for veterans. When he returns to his childhood home, he becomes angry that people are indifferent about the war and what it represents to the country.

The main reason for this review is for the next LAMB Acting School 101, Willem Dafoe. Willem has a small part as a confidant of Ron, Charlie, when Ron lives in Villa Dulce, Mexico. A place where disabled veterans stays, get drunk and have sex with hookers. Charlie questions Ron about what really happened to him in the war and questions everything that Ron believed in.

I was expected to be blown away with Tom Cruise’s performance. I saw glimpses of it, but not that much to keep me interested in it. I have seen a lot of Vietnam movies. It’s like all of them are blurring into one. This particular story is not that intriguing to me and I found myself bored with it. It seems shallow and it doesn’t explore what happens to a person when they come back from the war.

Judgment: I wish I had some glowing words to say about this movie, but I don’t.

Rating: 6.5/10

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The Graduate (1967)

Mrs. Robinson, if you don’t mind my saying so, this conversation is getting a little strange.

— Benjamin Braddock

I always wanted to see the #161 Movie of All-Time on IMDb, The Graduate for a long time now. I have never had the chance until now. It is one of those movies that everyone have already seen many times or at least known some of the famous lines from it. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards and it only won for Nichols as Best Director. Strange.

Based on the novel by Charles Webb, the movie tells the story of Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) who has come back to the west coast after graduating from college. Mr. and Mrs. Braddock (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson) throw him a welcome home party of the home. Ben is uncomfortable having all the attention on him. He isolates himself in his room.

The wife of his dad’s business partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) bursts into his room thinking that it was the bathroom. Instead, she asks Ben to drive her home, because her husband (Murray Hamilton) took the car out. After Ben drops her off, she invites him in for a drink and proceeds to slowly seduce him.

Mr. Robinson comes back home to find them acting like nothing happened. Mr. Robinson senses Ben’s uneasiness and decides to give him advice about sowing his wild oats. He doesn’t know that his wife has offered herself to Benjamin any time he wants for a quick romp.

After Ben turns 21, he decides to proceed with the affair at a local hotel where he decides to reserve the room under the name, Mr. Gladstone. Their affair continues but it seems that Ben wants more than a physical relationship, but Mrs. Robinson doesn’t want to chit-chat.

Things becomes complicated when the Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross) comes to town and Ben’s parents are forcing him to go on a date with her.

I can see why Nichols won the Oscar for Best Director. The way that the movie is shot is a sight to behold. You have the camera placed in the closet, a camera rolling into darkness, people facing away from the camera delivering their dialogue. I really enjoyed the relationship with Ben and Mrs. Robinson. It’s not tawdry as I thought. It was realistic. Anne Bancroft was luminous on screen. I love the lilt in her voice.

There some things I didn’t enjoy about this movie. I was not thrilled about the relationship between Ben and Elaine. It didn’t seem organic to me. Ben also becomes stalkerish near the end that really disturbed me.

Judgment: A story about an affair that is not dated.

Rating: 8/10

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Ya know it could be like this, just like this always.

— Jack Twist

Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was the seminal movie that ignited my passion for the cinemas. I was obsessed with this movie when it came out. I didn’t see most of the Best Picture nominees that year for that reason. It was the be all, end all for me. It went on to when three Oscars including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score. The Oscars were on my “shit list” for a long time that it did not win Best Picture, instead of giving it to Crash.

Summer 1963. Wyoming. A gruff rancher named Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and brooding Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) help out sheep herder Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) move his flock on Brokeback Mountain without the park rangers smelling him out. It seems like everyday is the same with eating beans, watching the sheep; Ang Lee brilliant direction makes it fascinating to watch their relationship unfolded. Jack’s innocence softens Ennis’s tough exterior. He begins to express himself more.

One night, their friendship is changed forever after a night of drinking they have sex. Multiple questions arise: did Jack forced himself Ennis? Did they come together because they were the only humans around? Afterwards, they try to shake it off as a one time only occurrence. They can’t because they are beginning to fall in love with each other.

They thought that they could keep their relationship secret, but it is the worst kept secret. The work they are sent to do suffers as Aguirre’s flock is confused with another sheep herder and a massive snow storm cut their time short. Jack and Ennis have to go their separate. They don’t work to leave each other’s side, but it was a different time in 1963. They can’t run away together and go to Greenwich Village or San Francisco.

Ennis marries his longtime girlfriend, Alma (Michelle Williams) and quickly starts a family with her. Jack tries to get back into the rodeo circuit, but he  meets the forward, Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway). I never realized that each guy married a female version of each other. Alma is passive like Jack and Lureen is more take charge like Ennis. They try to lead “regular” lives as fate steps in to turn their worlds upside down.

I remember the first time that I saw the film at the Landmark Theater back in Houston. It was a couple of days after it opened in limited release that December. The line for the movie was around the corner. It was amazing to see straight and gay couples wanting to see this movie. The movie was packed. It sat on the very back of the theater. I wanted to soak the experience in. I’m glad I did. I laughed. I cried. I went on a journey with these characters.

Oh, how I love this movie. Let me count the ways. The beautiful, breathtaking mountain peaks captured on video by Rodrigo Pietro, the haunting score by Gustavo Santaolalla, the excellent acting by Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams. I was surprised that the movie only won three Oscars. It boggles the mind.

The movie is not perfect. I did have some troubles with Anne Hathaway towards the end of the movie and some of the small female roles were throw aways like Anna Faris and Linda Cardellini. There was also the conclusion of the relationship. It was a little cliché.

Judgment: This is a prime example of why the Oscars don’t know what the fuck qualifies as the Best Picture of the year.

Rating: 9.5/10

Annie Hall (1977)

Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.

— Alvy Singer

I was psyched Woody Allen’s movie, Annie Hall was coming IFC that I set a reminder to watch it. Being familiar with Allen’s movies, I would have expected some random dialogue and meandering situations. That’s correct for the most part, but this film is so much more. This #132 Movie of All-Time on IMDb was nominated for five Oscars and it won four including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay.

This movie is about a pessimistic comic, Alvy Singer (Allen) recounting the relationship he had between himself and an aspiring singer, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Alvy’s problem is that his paranoid man that has delusions of grandeur. He treats the people around him like shit, because he is the only sane person, even though he has been seeing an analyst for most of his life.

Alvy and Annie meet when Alvy’s actor friend from Hollywood, Rob (Tony Roberts) introduces them during a spirited match of tennis. They bond over their eccentricities, the mundane of life and seeing analysts.

Whenever there is a conflict with Annie or their families, Alvy turns to the camera to offer his commentary about the situations. He deconstructs every flaw about a person and blows it out of proposition.

As they go deeper into their relationship, Annie feels that Alvy tries to mold her into something that she is not like forcing adult education courses upon her, taking her to an obscure foreign language movie or the condescending tone in his voice whenever they are waxing philosophic.

The relationship starts to wane that they are not having sex. They are going into a funk and they have to decide if they should stay together or break apart.

This movie was charming from start to finish. I love it when Alvy and Annie were having drinks on the roof of her building. They pontificate about some random topic and a bunch of subtitles pop showing the audience what they are really thinking. It reminded me of a particular scene in (500) Days of Summer.

The only flaw about the movie was the sequences in Los Angeles. It rang false to me. It was like a stereotypical take on Los Angeles that you have seen repeatedly. The hippies eating alfalfa spouts and drinking wheat grass or whatever.

Judgment: This is a great ode to relationships.

Rating: ****1/2

1001 Movie Club Catch Up: The Apartment (1960)

Stephen Jay Schneider chose this movie as one of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.” He compiled a massive list from the classic to the obscure for his anthology. The most worthy movies are chosen to be on this list. Every year, there is a revision to include the most essential movies to be on the minds of film buffs everywhere.

When Billy Wilder was spotlighted in a recent LAMB in the Director’s Chair, I didn’t even bother to visit more of his back catalog. Shame on me for not fulfilling my film snob credentials. It should have been suspended. Thanks to 1001 Movie Club, I would have never got the chance to see the #99 Movie of All-Time on IMDb, The Apartment or get the movie in past the post date.

Jack Lemmon plays an insurance agent, C.C. Baxter at Consolidate Life New York who on the outside seems like an overly ambitious worker bee that wants to move up with the company. Some of that is true. In actually, he is working the extra hours so the top officials of the company could have a safe place to carry on their affairs before eight o’clock. They compensate C.C. whatever they do in his apartment in exchange to getting a leg up on the corporate ladder.

The neighbors are growing more suspicious about the numerous activities that are happening at C.C.’s apartment every day, especially Mr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen, Naomi Stevens). They think that he is living the high life with the drunken sex marathons, but he is just the schlubby guy left out in the cold. His bosses’ late night escapades are affecting his work.

When one of his bosses unexpectedly needs his apartment, he forced out in the cold, rainy night. He develops a cold with put his little side job into turmoil when he has to reschedule other encounters so he could recover.

Every day, C.C. passes by a bubbly elevator girl, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), but he notices her when he is sent to personnel department to let him know if he is being promoted or fired. Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), the head of personnel hears word that C.C. rented out his apartment to top officials at he wants in on the action. In exchange, he gives C.C. to tickets to a Broadway show. He want to ask out Miss Kubelik, but she is spoken by someone C.C. knows.

I thought that this movie would be a straight romantic comedy, but the action takes a dangerous curve to places I never thought it could possibly go. Shirley MacLaine owns this movie. She was given a wide range of emotions from being bubbly and feisty to being morose and heartbroken. Wonderful. There were some people that annoyed with some of the women with their helium-induced voices like Sylvia (Joan Shawlee) or Mrs. MacDougall (Hope Holiday). It’s like nails on a chalkboard.

This movie must have been very controversial at the time of its release. Before the sexual revolution later on that decade, I’m sure that this movie would have raised a few eyebrows. The struggle between male dominance and female empowerment, sexual dynamics, taboo topics that were rarely discussed much less shown.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movie Club Approved

Judgment: This is a testament of how a romantic drama should be handled.

Rating: ****1/2

Unforgiven (1992)

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I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed everything that walks or crawls at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you done to Ned.

— William Munny

I can cross Unforgiven from my list of great movies that I have never seen. Touted as Clint Eastwood’s final western the movie went on to win a four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Eastwood and Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman. As many of you know that I am not a big fan of westerns, but this one is different. The #110 movie of All Time on IMDb, this movie transcends the traditional template of a western.

The crux of the movie is about a dispute in Wyoming between a cowboy Quick Mike (David Mucci) cutting the face of a prostitute, Delilah (Anna Levine) who questioned the size of his manhood when they were trying to have sex. His partner Davey Bunting (Rob Campbell) comes into the room and takes part in the brutal slashing.

Little Bill (Gene Hackman), the sheriff of Big Whiskey wants to give the boys a couple of lashings with a whip, but the girls wanted them to receive a worse punishment. Little Bill lets the boys go by just taking half of their horses as their punishment.

Seeking justice, the lead madame, Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher) and the rest of the girls gather all of their money together– a thousand dollars– as reward for any gunslinger that would gun down.

The news travel throughout the land when The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) seeks out retired gunslinger from Kansas, William Munny (Eastwood) to join him in killing the cowboys. He changed his ways from the drink, the cussing and the killing. He hasn’t picked up a gun in over a decade and doesn’t know if he could get back in the saddle.

Eventually, William takes him up on his offer. Along the way, William recruits his friend and another former gunslinger, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman). Going on the way to Big Whiskey, the trio realizes some truths about themselves.

Meanwhile in Big Whiskey, a known marksman, English Bob (Richard Harris), known for killing Chinamen moseys onto the town with his biographer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). He is met with some resistance by Little Bill and the lawmen.

There is an ordinance says that all outlaws must surrender their weapons. Little Bill doesn’t want to be cut down by an assassin’s bullet in his town. He becomes more paranoid that another marksman is going to turn his town into a shooting gallery.

This quiet film might not sit well with rough and tough, shoot ‘em up kind of viewer. I thought this was subdued brilliance. The shadows filled the scenes in dark bars or dimly lit rooms like a film noir. You get the sense of authenticity when see this film.

The themes of regret and redemption interwoven throughout the movie with William going back to life of being a criminal after her has made a promise to his dead wife or the way that The Schofield Kid reacted towards the end of the movie about killing a man.

Judgment: A fascinating portrait of gunslingers way past their prime in the Old West.

Rating: *****

The Hurt Locker (2009)

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You’ll know when you’re in it.

Currently out of town for the moment, there was a chance to see a special advance screening of Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film, The Hurt Locker. Not being familiar with her filmography, this was a solid character piece about broken soldiers trying to survive in war torn Iraq.

This is not just another anti-Iraqi war propaganda movie. This is a movie about Bravo company, a crew dealing the de-arment of roadside bombs.

When the movie starts, Bravo company deals with the loss of their leader, Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) from one of the roadside bombs. A hard-headed maverick, Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) joins Bravo company at the tail end of their year long tour.

He immediately butt heads with Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie). William doesn’t follow protocol and does things his way, not the Army Way.

This film follows the lives of William, JT and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) as they try to survive active combat.

The filmmaking was superb. Even though this film was shot in the desert, it was very alive, not monochromatic.

Judgment: Go see this film when it opens later this month and wider in July.

Rating: ****1/2

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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Frankly, you’re beginning to smell and for a stud in New York, that’s a handicap.

— Ratso Rizzo

Returning back to the running theme of this month, Midnight Cowboy was nominated for seven Oscars. It won for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The movie was good, but seemed hallow.

Joe Buck, an amateur hustler from Texas travels to New York City with his trusty radio in his hand. He struggles to find any means of income in the city.

He meets a handicapped con man, Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) who dupes him out of the last remaining Joe has.

When Joe is locked out of his apartment, he has nowhere to go, but he reluctantly befriends Ratso.

The movie was enjoyable, but some things didn’t gel. What was up with the flashbacks to Joe’s life in Texas? Ratso’s dream sequence? Was it necessary?

Judgment: An enjoyable movie that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Rating: ****

Casablanca (1942)

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Here’s looking at you, kid.

— Rick

Coming in at #11 of the Top 250 of all time on IMDB. Nominated for seven Oscars, winning three; including Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Curtiz and Best Screenplay.

Casablanca is considered one of the greatest cinematic romances of all time. Highly doubt that. Not to say that it was a terrible movie. Far from that, but it wasn’t perfect.

Set in the middle of WWII in unoccupied Casablanca, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is an former freedom fighter who has a famous club where all the refugees come to get away from the Nazis. His trusty pianist pal, Sam (Dooley Wilson) entertains the crowd with his songs.

One night, he receives two transit papers that were stolen from an SS officer from Ugarte (Peter Lorre). He hides them as SS officer, Major Strausser (Conrad Veidt) arrives in town to investigate where the papers are with the help of morally ambiguous Captain Renault (Claude Rains).

That very night, Rick’s former love, Isla (Ingrid Bergman) is with her companion, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid). Both are active freedom fighters that are looking for a way to get out of Casablanca to escape to America.

Problems with the movie. The “romance” between Rick and Isla was not fully explored. There was no connection between them. It felt forced. Two beautiful people got together. No explanation. This movie should have been longer. Allowing the relationship to develop between the lovers.

Negatives aside, Ingrid was lit beautifully. Loved it. Interesting angles with the camera. Light and shadow worked perfectly.

Judgment: Gorgeous visuals, but the story could leave you high and dry.

Rating: ***1/2

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

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“Anybody can lose one fight, anybody can lose once, you’ll come back from this you’ll be champion of the world.”

— Scrap

It has been five years since I saw Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby in theater when it was on the shortlist to clench the Oscar for Best Picture. I thought that I might see this movie again to see if I had the same reaction I did then.

The movie won four including, Best Picture, Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Best Actress: Hilary Swank and Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman. It currently #144 of all time on IMDB. This was my top favorite film of 2004.

The movie deals with an aging trainer/manager, Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) that loses his best male boxer, Big Willie (Mike Coulter) to a rival manager, Mickey Mack (Bruce MacVittie) in order for his to get a title shot.

Dunn runs the gym with a retired half-blind fighter, Scrap (Morgan Freeman). They deal with crazy characters like the scrawny featherweight, Danger (Jay Baruchel) who wants to be beat a welterweight champion of the world that retired years before. Also, there is Shawrelle (Anthony Mackie), a cocky boxer that could knock you out with a left hook, but he is unfocused.

An amateur boxer, Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) wants to be trained by Frankie, but he doesn’t train girls. She works as waitress and she is almost penniless. She struggles to support herself and her family.

After Dunn’s repeated attempts to drive her away, her stubbornness and tenacity breaks Frankie down until he takes her on.

As she begins to gain experience, she becomes overly-confident with fame and fortune that unexpected incident happens that changes her life forever.

I still have to same feelings as I did five years ago. I still think that Maggie was get to cocky for me to root for her. The characters in this movie had too much pride with a particular thing and they have to be brought down a peg.

As in any Eastwood film, Catholicism is front and center in story. Dunn tries to reconnect with her estranged daughter, Katie, who we never get to see. He goes to mass everyday to harass Father Horvak (Brían F. O’Byrne) to atone for a sin that the audience doesn’t know about.

Judgment: If you haven’t seen this movie in a long time, I would suggest revisiting it.

Rating: ****1/2

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