Posted on 6/23/12 02:29 PM
Throughout his movie career, Adam Sandler has been treated by critics like a bad batch of cookies made by a great grandmother. They may be hard to swallow sometimes but the person who made them is very charming, so you choke the baked goods down anyway. The bottom line is that Adam Sandler may have critically despised comedies, but the guy still retains the charisma that made the world fall in love with him during his Saturday Night Live days. Despite Sandler's critical onslaughts like Jack and Jill, You Don't Mess with the Zohan and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, it seems that every critic, and even the most cynical of film fan, has at least one Adam Sandler movie that is near and dear to their inner immature third grader. One great nomination for this place in a viewer's heart is Sandler's first starring film role from 1995, Billy Madison.Made in a time where Sandler's stock of likeability made it appear his cookies couldn't even be burnt around the edges,
Billy Madison is Sandler's funniest comedy to date. As any critic should warn the reader in a review of this film, Billy Madison is dumb. Extremely dumb, so dumb that the premise itself would have made Shakespeare slit his own throat from narrative related shame. But nonetheless Billy Madison proves to be an enduring comedic feature that showcases Sandler in top farcical form; playing an oddly accented man child whose persona amasses just as many dumb jokes as it does a more subtle sentimental side.With a screenplay written Sandler himself and a couple of frequent writing partners,
Billy Madison unravels the turbulent tale of the titular Billy (Adam Sandler). Appearing first frame as a schulby, obnoxious waste of human life proclaiming his love of sun tan lotion through the majesty of song, Billy is the paramount example of the spoiled prick down the street who doesn't deserve his countless opportunities. But even though Sandler has proven in his later career potential to accrue haters from his annoying gags, Billy, though annoying, also has been infused with Sandler's then unexhausted mid-90s charisma making him a more than bearable character to spend the next 90 minutes with.
The story begins to kick in (after Billy's hallucinatory chase for an abnormally sized penguin subsides) once Billy's father (Darren McGavin) announces his retirement and his intent to transfer leadership of his wealthy hotel dynasty to weasely corporate douchebag Eric (Bradley Whitford). Appalled by his father's lack of faith in his very hidden, in fact seemingly nonexistent, ability, Billy proposes that he should take over the company; as long as he completes grades 1-12 over again without the aid of his father's bribes. This turn of events in Billy's life leads to higher learning, lowest humor and some haphazardly unexpected results.
Billy Madison not only has a cavalcade of quotable lines, but also contains some truly great comedic performances from Sandler and Whitford. There are also some terrifically deranged cameos from Chris Farley and Steve Buscemi. There are many, many moments in Billy Madison that should make any viewer with an inch of a funny bone laugh out loud whether it's during a moment of unbridled stupidity of purely inspired comedic gold, Sandler's best full-on comedy is a timeless guilty pleasure.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on June 19th 2012
Posted on 6/14/12 11:07 PM
Hollywood has always had dollar signs in its eyes, but never before has there been more Hollywood greed then in a time where it appears the well of original ideas has long run dry. Typically, the worst time of the year for Hollywood money lust is summer, a time that should be dominated with popcorn flick perfection pieces the likes of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight or Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark have been replaced with audience negligent ticket burners like Michael Bay's Transformers series or Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Its movies like Transformers or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that Hollywood creates in order to make money while in the process both spoiling the original source material and disappointing the viewers who loved the predecessors in the first place.
Although this unfortunate Tinsel Town trend has brought the world many terrible films in the past, Ridley Scott's prequel to the Alien series, Prometheus, not only destroys the stereotypical "bad Hollywood sequel/prequel/threequel" by producing a great film, but also makes the viewer think deeply about their very existence in a season traditionally slotted for endless explosions and carefree comedy. Scott's Prometheus is not only his best reviewed since 2007's American Gangster, or his first Russell Crowe-free feature in six years but is also one of the best prequels ever made as well as a crowning jewel in his own filmography.
The year is 2093, transpiring about 85 years before Scott's 1979 sci-fi/horror classic Alien, and the story focuses on a new heroine, a young doctor named Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace). After Shaw and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a strange connection between the hieroglyphics of several ancient civilizations, they request a crew to explore a distant galaxy to discover the meaning of the drawings and to ultimately attempt to "meet their maker".
Joining the two archaeologists on this expedition to make history and possibly find the meaning of human life is Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) a high strung Weyland Corporation employee, David (Michael Fassbender) an android with high artificial intelligence and Janek (Idris Elba) the captain of Prometheus, the film's titular space vessel. Together along with a crew of fellow scientists, the team investigates the existence and possible extinction of what Shaw refers to as "engineers", a.k.a. the probable creators of the human race.
For a prequel to a series of films that has really only produced one memorable performance in Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley, Prometheus boasts an ensemble cast of extremely talented actors. Rapace, known for her Swedish Lisbeth Salander demonstrates her range as a woman of science who is simultaneously a true believer, Elba appears consistently confident onscreen and Theron has more than proven herself capable through her work in Arrested Development and Monster but nonetheless solidifies her actress chops. Pitch perfect performances run rampant in Prometheus, but the standout in the star studded cast is the scene stealing Michael Fassbender who gives yet another unbelievable performance as the unflinchingly straightforward and subtly disturbing David.
On a purely technical level of cinematography and special effects, Prometheus has few rivals in this year's batch of summer movies, or that of any season. From the enigmatic opening scene, to the beautiful widescreen shots of various planetary landscapes and even atmospheric lighting of mysterious intergalactic caves, Scott has created a visual marvel. There are many instances where the photography of the film seamlessly marries top notch effects and the gorgeous cinematic aesthetics in ways that recall Kubrick's tantalizingly meticulous symmetry in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Not only does Scott channel the 1968 science fiction classic to the eye, but also is able to elicit the same kind of viewer deliberation that makes the thinking audience frequently revisit masterpieces of the sci-fi genre. What makes Prometheus a cut above most sci-fi movies is that it doesn't give away all of its secrets and it leaves the audiences with questions that not only apply to the world of the film, but also to their own lives (and deaths). The screenplay serves as a terrific synthesis of a return to the ingenuity of Scott's Alien and the cult-garnering mysticism of 2001.
For viewers expecting another Alien, they are in for some familiar parallels and possible explanations, but are also due for a completely different piece of work that should not be tossed into the basket of standard blockbuster fare. After all, a summer movie that delivers on acting, effects, action and ends up making one ponder faith, life and existentialism doesn't deserve to be taken lightly.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on June 15th 2012
Posted on 6/11/12 10:12 PM
The Alien series has long been considered a staple of essential science fiction works in American popular culture. The original film, Alien, released 1979, was written by Dan O‚(TM)Bannon and directed by Ridley Scott. The first film of the franchise produced a chilling atmosphere with a bleak and sinister sci-fi futuristic landscape and recycled many traits of classic science fiction and monster movie films like Jaws and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Due to Scott‚(TM)s dynamic direction, not only was Alien able to revitalize both genres, but also create a surprising new archetype of its own. Fast forward seven years after the success of Alien, (and 57 years in Ellen Ripley‚(TM)s timeline), and the world was given Aliens, the sequel where new director James Cameron threw out the blueprints that made Alien great and replaced it with the Hollywood machine layout that would keep his career, and his net worth, afloat for decades to come.
Transpiring right after the horrific events of the first film, Cameron‚(TM)s original screenplay for Aliens starts off on a solid path of storytelling; though it doesn‚(TM)t stay on a good course for long. The premise is that the colony of human settlers on the planet LV-426, where the life form that destroyed the commercial ship ‚Nostromo‚? originates, is in danger of discovering the plethora of alien eggs and putting the whole galaxy in jeopardy. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the only survivor of the Nostromo incident and is lucky enough to be found drifting in space. Recovered by the enigmatic company she was employed under, Ripley‚(TM)s license is suspended and her warnings about the creatures are ignored until the colony on LV-426 ceases all communication. Now starting to consider Ripley‚(TM)s warning of an alien threat, Ripley is sent by the Company to advise a corporate stooge and a team of ‚ultimate badass‚? soldiers in their mission eliminate the species and restore order to the colony.
As far as the first the twenty or so minutes of the film, the story sounds solid. That‚(TM)s until the cloying traits of a Cameron screenplay kick in. Instead of the mood/suspense building propensity formed by O‚(TM)Bannon and Scott‚(TM)s take on the world of the Alien saga, Cameron‚(TM)s Aliens trades in skillful filmmaking for simply jumping from one popcorn worthy action set piece to another like a video game. While the action set pieces are undeniably entertaining and have aged well compared to other 80s films, the one thing that is inexcusable about Cameron‚(TM)s script is the consistently over-the-top and often unbearably cheesy dialogue, most of which is courtesy of Bill Paxton as the equal parts macho and worrywart pansy super soldier Private Hudson.
In fact the only person who really gets a chance to perform well in Aliens is sci-fi queen Sigourney Weaver, who is just skilled enough to overcome (most of) Cameron‚(TM)s cardboard dialogue. Weaver truly makes Ripley a character the viewer can root for, mostly through a feminist lens. Whether Cameron intended a legitimate theme or was just trying to grub for more audience dough, Aliens does help expand upon a great heroine, her heroic acts and the feminist themes that were more underplayed and subtle in the initial installment. Some of the cast feels like dead weight (a surefire symptom of sequel-it is), none more so then the tiny, annoying shriek machine that is Carrie Henn‚(TM)s Newt; a useless character only added into the film for cheap audience emotion manipulation.
Despite some bad acting from Paxton, Henn and some other marine characters, as well as poorly written dialogue from Cameron, Aliens does succeed on the level of entertainment, in large part due to some good special effects and Weaver‚(TM)s strong work. By the end of the movie, Aliens did two things: first, reaffirm my loathing of Cameron‚(TM)s Avatar and its blatant unoriginality, and secondly, allowed me to further appreciate the chillingly atmospheric Ridley Scott original as opposed to the 1986 explosion clad, action set piece centric sequel. While it does not deserve its popular title as a ‚sequel-that‚(TM)s-better-than-the-first‚? movie and gives up the intelligent Hitchcockian craftsmanship of Alien, Aliens remains essential viewing for film nerds and sci-fi buffs.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on June 11th 2012
Posted on 6/09/12 11:05 AM
Throughout the past decade or so Wes Anderson has delivered his signature quirkiness, intricately detailed sets and never-Hollywood-cookie-cutter stories to the big screen via his magnificent direction and writing. His latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, his follow-up to the masterful 2009 stop motion animated feature Fantastic Mr. Fox, brings all of Anderson‚(TM)s classic traits to the table and also is another great entry into the director‚(TM)s amazingly consistent career long winning streak of uniquely great films.
Anderson conceived the idea for Moonrise Kingdom through his own childhood experiences and his encounters with the pangs of adolescent love. Along with writing partner Roman Coppola, the outstanding Texan auteur has brought the original story of ‚~emotionally disturbed‚(TM) Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and aloof New England daughter Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) to vibrant life. Sam and Suzy are both lonely children who feel neglected by the adults in their life. After a yearlong series of pen pal letters to each other, the two pre-teens decide to runaway together from their homes on New Penzance Island off the coast of New England. The year is 1965 so the use of satellites and cellular devices is futile compared to the search party consisting of Sam‚(TM)s Khaki Scout Troop led by Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton), the local police captain (Bruce Willis) and Suzy‚(TM)s pair of lawyer parents (Bill Murray & Frances McDormand). While Sam and Suzy experience the magic of summer and first love, the search party scours the island for them in a race against a brewing hurricane, tracked by the movie‚(TM)s occasional narrator (Bob Balaban).
Amongst its many perfect qualities, Moonrise Kingdom is first and foremost a film that conjures up a visual nirvana in a way that only Wes Anderson‚(TM)s mega Crayola box of colorful sets, costumes and frames could. From the opening credits sequence consisting of a series of pans through the Bishop household, each shot is exquisite and beautifully detailed. Anderson, known to keep notebooks chock full of ideas for additions to sets and miniscule decorations for his films like Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tenenbaums, lets every frame overflow with the beauty of his creative vision and proves to be just as exacting as the Benjamin Britten snippets of the soundtrack that explain which instrument is coming in the track one by one.
In many Anderson films, his frames are full of things in the background that are both subtle in their display but ironically blatant due to their stark absurdity, while Moonrise Kingdom does offer up more of this quintessential Anderson visual quirk, the film also makes use of its excellent ensemble cast. Each character has been delicately crafted by Anderson and the great performers that play them, whether they are the impressive young newcomers Gilman and Hayward or long-time veterans of the screen like Harvey Keitel or Bill Murray, make concepts of people that could be cartoonishly corny into tangible human beings who each display their inner goodness at choice moments.
While each performance in Moonrise Kingdom is stellar and practically everyone in the cast has a vividly memorable moment or line that epitomizes their character and place in the film, the real standouts are the possible career best showcases of Bruce Willis and Edward Norton as well as the astonishing debut of Kara Hayward who commands each scene she‚(TM)s in with the pure intensity of her stare.
The cornerstone of Wes Anderson‚(TM)s indie film quirk is the application of endless irony. Irony abounds in the way that Anderson‚(TM)s adults act like children and that the children in his film act like adults, and there is always irony in his sense of situational humor, but the most ironic aspect of his seventh feature is that the theme that unifies the characters and the story is the fact that everyone feels lonely in one way or another. Whether it‚(TM)s the way he shows the dispersed members of the Bishop family throughout their home, frequent usage of lonesome Hank Williams songs, Scoutmaster Ward‚(TM)s undercurrents of melancholy as he records his daily events isolated in his tent, or even the very island the story transpires on (being surrounded by water and separated from the mainland), constitutes the overwhelming feelings of loneliness in the world of Moonrise Kingdom.
Luckily, a story in the hands of Wes Anderson not only makes the audience feel the lows of his richly textured characters, but also their emotional highs. Ultimately, Moonrise Kingdom will leave any viewer, especially Anderson fans, feeling a happier in the world outside of cinema that can, at times, be quite lonely indeed.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on June 9th 2012
Posted on 4/09/12 07:43 AM
"I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between." - Francois Truffaut
It takes a truly great filmmaker to make realism in film that can satisfy an audience. Today in modern times Hollywood churns out films so unlikely that critical viewers can be sickened with the implausibility but often time's films that contain a slice of life are not nearly as engrossing enough as they should be and enter into the realm of pretentious everyday realism for the causal soul. Francois Truffaut's 'French new wave' masterpiece The 400 Blows not only brings delectable realism to the table but also proves to be a poignant classic that satisfied the past and still lures in present audiences to this day.
Maybe it's the way people can relate to the story of The 400 Blows that makes the work so consistently spellbinding. The screenplay unravels the semi-autobiographical yarn of a misunderstood youth named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and observes him through the course of his everyday life. On a day to day basis there is nothing necessarily extraordinary about the boy's life. His home life consists of a joking father (Albert Remy) and a snappy mom (Claire Maurier) who are either working or getting into fights. During the day Antoine goes to school only to ridiculed by his strict teachers and peer pressured by his classmates. Eventually a few too many mishaps lead Antoine into a sad reality of running away from home and petty crimes.
The story archetype of The 400 Blows is very influential and is still imitated and coveted by filmmakers today that try to capture the heartbreaking stories of the everyday life. The cast in the movie appear to not even know that movie cameras exist and just act exactly how a realist film should be; natural. The young Leaud gives a terrifically expressive performance in what deserves to be considered the pinnacle of child acting. The words from the script translate very well into English and probably any other language. There is no show stopping dramatic lines, no intensely meditated monologues, just the flow of day to day dialogue.
Again, there is nothing really extraordinary about the story; if someone heard about a boy who didn't excel and school and subsequently committed petty thievery, that someone would neither be shocked nor very interested. The beauty of the 400 Blows lies within the purity of how Truffaut captures real life so effortlessly onto celluloid. Viewers will get a high off of the mere fumes of the exquisite tracking shot centric cinematography, the heart stopping point of view shots and the close up emotions of the character's faces. No film transports the audience into someone's life as beautifully as The 400 Blows.
The 400 Blows remains a respected, timeless classic because it just feels so real. The audience escapes so much into the lives of these characters that they begin to really feel as if they feel Antoine's urge to wander, spite his tormenting teachers and sympathize with his parental plights. At the end of it all the movie on all levels just feels so effortlessly beautiful.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on April 9th 2012
Posted on 3/26/12 11:15 PM
MGM's 1952 musical Singin' In The Rain is cheesy, candy colored and an absolutely undeniable classic. Musicals have never been my preferred genre of film, but Singin' In The Rain is a quintessential piece of American pop culture that every cineaste should experience at least once. Despite its 50+ years of being released, he film has not lost its purely magical touch.
The setting is 1927 Hollywood and Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lena Lemont (Hagen) are high on the silent film star totem pole. The premiere of their latest film, as always, is a great success and nothing seems like it could go wrong. That is until "The Jazz Singer", the world's first 'talkie' is released. At first dismissed by the studios as a passing trend, the talkie eventually moves into replace the silent picture. Along the way Lockwood and Lemont must adapt to the change in climate and learn how to use their new found cinematic voices with the help of musical director Cosmo Brown (O' Connor) and up and coming actress Kathy Selden (Reynolds).
Singin' In The Rain is a truly iconic and influential picture. It not only showcases the incredible dancing skills of Gene Kelly but also the ambiance of a golden time where musicals were actually bankable projects in Hollywood. The look of the film is vibrant and unforgettable. The set pieces, colorful costumes and legendary shots are impressive even by today's standards. In most music videos these days it feels like there's at least a hundred cuts per minute, Singin' In The Rain's cinematography actually allows the camera to show the stage and choreography for a lot more than two seconds. Nothing captures the spirit of the musical like well shot musical number. Although the only weak spot of Singin' in the Rain lies within its excessive and unnecessary Broadway Rhythm musical number that is too long with nothing to do with the otherwise stellar story.
Singin' In The Rain is very light entertainment, but entertainment none the less. Compared to the modern comedy's sarcastic deadpan humor the sense of humor in Singin' In The Rain may seem to be trying a little too hard to "make us laugh" but the performances of the primary cast are so delightfully hokey the viewer can't help but have a good time watching. Some of the performing highlights include Jean Hagen's fatefully squeaky voiced Lena Lemont and Gene Kelly's famous scene with the titular song at its center.
No matter how you feel about musicals, whether or not you see them as too gay or too lame, Singin' In The Rain is still a fantastic piece of work. It's an immortal cinematic pick me up for the ages. If for nothing else Singin' In The Rain should be remembered for its real star, Gene Kelly's feet.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on June 27th 2011
Posted on 3/24/12 01:31 AM
"We must make an idol of our fear, and call it god." - Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) in The Seventh Seal
Foreign films are sometimes a very difficult art to absorb. The language barrier and subtitle effectiveness are a staggering obstacle to come over and still appreciate the film as a whole but it takes a true artist to transcend mere oral languages and truly grasp the reality of the language of cinema. Perhaps no other film is better example of how gracefully a story can be told and interpreted in multiple ways then Ingmar Bergman's 1957 world class masterpiece, The Seventh Seal.
The impressive original screenplay from the Swedish auteur evolved from a play he had originally wrote for acting students, then to a radio episode, and then became the legendary film the cinematic world cherishes today. It is the tale of a knight named Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) whom along with his squire, Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand), has just returned from a crusade during the 14th century only to come home to the Black Plague. One day washed up on a beach Antonius meets Death (Bengt Ekerot). Hoping to claim the knight's life, Antonius challenges Death to a game of chess to duel for his fate.
The beauty of The Seventh Seal is that despite its simple story that could be comprehended by a small child via storybook format, the movie is loaded with symbolism, provocative lines and spiritual meaning. So much can be taken out of practically every line in The Seventh Seal that goes well beyond the realm of mere character dialogue to advance the plot. No movie questions the existence of God, the purpose of humans and the communication between mortals and higher powers as articulately or artfully as The Seventh Seal. There are so many characters that represent heavily biblical traits and The Seventh Seal is able to juggle a million theologically lofty ideas at once without dropping the ball once.
The ideals of The Seventh Seal are all just as poignant as the nest but my personal favorite and the most timeless of all them in a very timeless film is the metaphor that is the protagonist, Antonius Block. Antonius represents the human doubt of God's existence, or at least the universal struggle to maintain ones faith in the lord. "Faith is a torment. It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call." This quote effectively summarizes Block's character and perfectly illustrates the often turbulent relationship between God and mankind.
Besides the deeper meanings, cynicism, symbolism and unique narrative conveyed by the screenplay, The Seventh Seal is a masterpiece is every other aspect a film appreciator could hope for. The black and white cinematography is absolutely sharp and stunning; there is no doubt that there are a handful of exquisitely beautiful images now permanently etched in my mind from The Seventh Seal. The acting in the film is also top notch as well as the renowned direction style of Ingmar Bergman.
The Seventh Seal is the greatest film Sweden has ever produced and easily fits in among the list entries of the greatest films ever made. A gorgeously crafted piece of art, a timeless provoker of deep thought and a perfect gateway drug to the magnificent Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal is a film that helps to define the movies and how the magic of film can transcend any language.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on March 24th 2012
Posted on 3/15/12 07:11 AM
"I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" - Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in Network
Satires may be one of the hardest types of films that can be made into classics. Intricately directors and writers need to be able to weave in lines, plots and characters that will stay true tomorrow, yesterday and the present so it will never become dated or lose its touch. In the past decade there have been few memorable social satirical pieces, so there are probably even fewer that could be recognized as classics; the best satire I can think of in the last decade is Tropic Thunder. But despite any degree of difficulty for making a satire have a lasting cultural impact there is one classic film that has actually become more relevant with its age. This 35 plus year old masterpiece is Sidney Lumet's Network.
Bringing one of the best original screenplays ever written to vibrant life on the screen, Network unravels the tale of news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch). Beale has come across some troubled times and has turned to drinking, sometimes at work, to soothe the pain. Beale is let down easy by his old friend Max Schumacher (William Holden) who runs the news division. Fired promptly, Beale lashes out one day on the air by announcing his eminent suicide. This provokes heartless programmer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) into exploiting Beale's anger for higher ratings to appease her higher ups, including Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) and Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty). This simple quest for ratings leads to much more than one could typically imagine.
Network boasts one of the best ensembles ever assembled on film. Every relevant character in the film is written for a purpose and each one of them has great lines to utter. Lumet was always considered to be an "actor's director" and this is just as apparent here as it was in his legendary debut film 12 Angry Men. After its release Network garnered a whopping five acting nominations at the Academy Awards for the stellar work from Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight. The winners were Finch (earning the first ever posthumous Oscar), Dunaway and Straight (her performance only occupied 5:40 of screen time the shortest to win an Oscar ever), but every actor nominated, as well as the non-nominated Duvall, deserved an award. No film since Network has won three of the four Oscars for acting.
The aesthetic of Network is in the extremely well-written screenplay, which was voted the 8th best of all-time by the screenwriter's guild and won a well-deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar back in 1976. The story offers up everything from pressing social issues, corporate philosophy, to tumultuous romance and near farcical levels of satire. What makes Network such a lasting and impactful classic film is that the seeming insanity of The Howard Beale Show, the UBS executives and the TV viewers themselves is really not very far from the truth about journalism and its effects today over three decades later; in fact it's dangerously close.
Network is and will always be a textbook lesson on media literacy, an awareness arousing social satire that is an essential piece of American art. Network is one of, if not the best of Lumet's greatest films. After seeing Network, turning on the TV, especially the news channel can never be looked at in quite the same way. After watching a half hour of what the decaying standard of broadcasting journalism is today it's easy to see how and why people today are still mad as hell after all these years.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on March 15th 2012
Posted on 3/13/12 04:57 PM
"Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence." - Stella (Thelma Ritter) in Rear Window
Before I really knew about the relevance of Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window was the first Hitchcock movie I ever had the pleasure to witness. Not much more can be said, but nonetheless Rear Window is one of Hitchcock's definitive classics that show off his unceasing directorial talent, timeless performances, impressive sound mixing and ultimately one of cinema's most intriguing mystery thrillers.
L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is a magazine photographer who had always lived life on the edge traveling around the world for valuable shots of locales and people, but now as a "dramatically different" change of pace he is stuck in his apartment with a fragile shattered leg and a stiff cast after an attempted photo shoot in the middle of a race track. Jefferies only means of entertainment is his neighbors outside of the window of his apartment. Between visits from his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his stunning fashionista girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), Jeffries becomes obsessed with the "peeping tom" show in his own backyard, peeking into people's lives, but things really get heated up once he suspects one of his neighbors to be the culprit of a murder.
Rear Window is perhaps the greatest example of Alfred Hitchcock's stellar abilities to channel the language of cinema into some of the best storytelling ever projected on the silver screen. With skillful use of editing, frame within a frame shots, reverse shots, pans, and the ever voyeuristic point of view shots, he creates a constant air of suspense that offers new thrills and details every time this classic is rewatched. Besides the main story of Jeffries himself and the suspected murder, Hitchcock is able to simultaneously tell the audience several sub plot stories happening in the other windows surrounding Jeffries that would take a lesser filmmaker a whole feature length movie to show.
Besides the skillful storytelling and shot composition, Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart are one of the more formidable actor-director pair ups in the history of cinema. Having worked together previously in 1948's Rope, Stewart does great work as he always did, as the photographer torn between a serious injury, a career, curiosity and a love affair. The two would go on to work together in 1956's The Man Who Knew Too Much and the 1958 Hitchcock classic Vertigo. Along with Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey and Raymond Burr also provide believably three-dimensional characters that are genuinely interesting to behold on screen.
Rear Window is simply another unforgettable classic courtesy of the Master of Suspense. One of the greatest films of all-time and perhaps the best mystery, Rear Window is an essential movie for anyone who enjoys film to see over and over again. Perhaps what makes the picture so alluring to come back to is its complete and total honesty. Every window just seems begging to be looked into and observed, each one having a unique story to tell. I personally believe there's no way that someone in Jeffries' situation would be able to keep his eyes turned away from his neighbors'; could you?
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on March 13th 2012
Posted on 3/09/12 06:43 PM
"Nobody commits a murder just for the experiment of committing it. Nobody except us." - Brandon (John Dall) in Rope
I have considered Alfred Hitchcock to be an incredibly innovative director, but I never thought of him as an especially experimental one. Enter the 1948 film Rope. In a time where films were just becoming a more established and respectable art form then from even a couple decades prior, Hitchcock not only dared to defy production codes, and allure to a lingering evil, but also made what is one of the most experimental films with box office attracting stars ever made.
The movie, based off of a play of the same name and allegedly inspired by the murder of a 14-year-old boy by University of Chicago students, is about a subject that is no stranger to the Hitchcockian connoisseur; murder. Immediately after the credits, the camera pans over to the strangulation of David Powers by Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger). Despite Brandon's adrenaline rush from the completion of the "perfect murder", Phillip is overwhelmed with anxiety and doubt as to whether the dastardly duo can get away with it. To celebrate their triumph, Brandon has a party minutes after the crime is committed. The guests include two former lovers, their housekeeper, and David's father and aunt. The only guest who does smell something fishy is going down is their old professor Rupert (James Stewart).
Being in a much less desensitized and intolerable time period as today, the production codes at the time of Rope's release were incredibly strict, but despite the rules, many directors including Hitchcock, found ways around them. In Rope it is never explicitly stated but it is hinted at and subtly apparent to the intertextualized viewer that Brandon and Phillip are indeed a gay couple. Not only did Hitchcock utilize subtle actors to allude to an alternative, then underground, lifestyle, but also alluded to the evils of Nazism still lingering in the world after World War II. In the film Brandon argues with Phillip that they were somehow superior to Brandon and had the right to commit murder on an "inferior being". This ironically is the most disturbing thought in the movie that such sinister idealism could possibly be on American soil. Through these lenses, Rope power charges under currents of impressive social acrobatics to brash to be on the surface for its time and place.
The other impressive feats of Rope include its famed experimental cinematography which one critic described as being the cinematic equivalent of play. Hitchcock himself described Rope as being a mere stunt, but even if it was, Hitchcock still accomplishes some indelible camera work and "sneaky" editing. Advertised as a film that gives the illusion of one-take for the whole movie, a feat actually accomplished 54 years later in Russian Ark, but in reality has a few edits in their courtesy of zooming in and out of character's backs.
Despite the not so covert editing, the long takes are impressive and give a chance to showcase the actor's dialogue, but the long take camera technique also helps aid the story at certain points in some ingenious ways. The best of these showcases is when Rupert theorizes how Brillip (my couple name for Brandon and Phillip), could have committed the murder and while he talks the camera follows his every presumption around the set making the only thing missing from the pseudo flashback the victim himself.
Rope is an intriguing experiment in film and is at times a very entertaining picture, but it's not a perfect Hitchcockian thriller leaving some less than appealing dinner guests behind and not including as much genius camera moves as it could have. But the camera does have two very good extended moments in this picture, while the performances are fine and the script contains delectable macabre humor and some grade sarcasm, the omniscient camera remains the true star. Rope is not Hitchcock's best film, but it's one of his most subtly innovative.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on March 9th 2012