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New Additions: “Sahara,” “Frantic” and “Stagecoach”

March 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Haven’t done one of these in a while. Once again, these are just some films that I’ve seen recently for the first time and added to The Mitchell List. I’ve featured them here, with a short review for each.

“Sahara” (Zoltan Korda) – 1943

No, I’m not talking about the Matthew McConaughey/Penelope Cruz turd that came out a few years ago. “Sahara,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lloyd Bridges was not only a movie about World War II, but one of the first films ever made featuring Americans fighting in said war. It takes place in the deserts of North Africa and follows a diminished American tank crew, a handful of stranded British soldiers and their fight to protect a water hole from a Battalion of five hundred Nazis. The film features some good cinemtagraphy, excellent sound design and some riveting action scenes. However, I was kind of put off by the mean spiritedness of the American soldiers, tricking the Germans who are dying of thirst into coming to an empty water hole with the intent of slaughtering them. Overall, it adds to the central propagandist logic of the film of glorifying the G.I.s and antagonizing the Nazis as the real battle raged across the ocean, back at a time period when our soldiers really did have a cause worth fighting for.

GRADES:           B            * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           6.8 / 10.0

 

“Frantic” (Roman Polanski) – 1988

Roman Polanski has been known for a lot of things, both in the filmmaking world and outside of it. However, after seeing films like “The Ghost Writer” and now this, one facet that I can definitely accredit to him is perfecting the formula of the Hitchcock thriller. Harrison Ford is an ordinary man put into an extraordinary situation when his wife is kidnapped while both are on a business trip to Paris. Ford must go beyond his limitations as a private citizen to solve the kidnapping and ends up getting involved in a criminal conspiracy in the process. This is a great little thriller with some classic scenes. Polanski and Ford both do a fantastic job of never letting the main character tread into action-hero territory, keeping the suspense alive by allowing the audience to see themselves in the protagonist’s shoes by constantly asking themselves what they would do if put in said situation. My only huge qualm with the film is its technical quality. There’s some interesting shots and cutting work in play. Yet overall, the film looks not only plain, but boring. Still a successfully thrilling film.

GRADES:           B+            * * * * / * * * * *           7.8 / 10.0

 

“Stagecoach” (John Ford) – 1939

With this grand tale of high adventure, John Ford created, perhaps, the mother of all westerns. A true motley crew of passengers, including a marshall, a prostitute, an alcoholic doctor and an fugitive outlaw, must take a stagecoach through volatile indian country. They must put aside their differences, band together and survive the journey, together. Classic films from the golden age of cinema rarely display such excitement and raw adventure. Ford’s portrait of the separate characters forming a courageous bond, though certainly not without turmoil, is the strongest prospect of the film. The audience really becomes a member of the journey. It’s not difficult to understand why this film, among others, inspired an entire generation of kids playing cowboys and indians. The film also features some great performances, the standout being Thomas Mitchell’s Oscar-winning work as the comic and philosophical doctor struggling with his demons.

GRADES:           A-            * * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           9.2 / 10.0

 

 

Now, since it has been a time since I authored one of these posts, I’ve obviously seen a lot more than three films since the last one. Therefore, I thought I’d put up my ratings and simply say a few words on the other features that I viewed.

 

 

“The Last Emperor” (Bernardo Bertolucci) – 1987

Certainly a gorgeous-looking epic which has some well-directed scenes, however lacking a strong protagonist or a worthy third act.

GRADES:           B            * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           7.4 / 10.0

 

“The Beach” (Danny Boyle) – 2000

By far, the worst outing of Danny Boyle’s entire career. A true misstep from beginning to end, with flaccid characters that seek out a psuedo-“Lord of the Flies” style of Spring Break.

GRADES:           C-            * * / * * * * *           3.6 / 10.0

 

“Suspiria” (Dario Argento) – 1977

A true horror classic with some highly influential camerawork and one hell of an unorthodox and all together harrowing musical score.

GRADES:           B+            * * * * / * * * * *           8.0 / 10.0

 

“Flirting with Disaster” (David O’Russell) – 1996

O’Russell is definitely a director who has gotten better with age. This film is a lot of fun with an extensive cast, but is just too goofy to be taken seriously.

GRADES:           B+            * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           6.8 / 10.0


“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (Alex Gibney) – 2005

The breakout film for rockstar documentary director, Alex Gibney, which uncovers corruption with excitement and poise.

GRADES:           B+           * * * * / * * * * *           7.8 / 10.0

 

“Iron Man 2” (Jon Favreau) – 2010

This sequel, lacking the wit and excitement of the original, doesn’t quite flush the franchise down the toilet, but makes it a lot less reputable.

GRADES:           C-           * * / * * * * *           4.0 / 10.0

 

“Catch-22” (Mike Nichols) – 1970

I’m usually always up for a good war/political satire, which this is. However, the plot is so insanely convoluted that it’s just downright confusing, but not in a good way.

GRADES:           B           * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           7.2 / 10.0

 

“Trade” (Marco Kreuzpainter) – 2007

A compelling, yet overly self-righteous, thriller about sex trafficking features Kevin Kline in a role with nearly no comedy and one really weird and unbalanced ending.

GRADES:           B-           * * * / * * * * *           6.0 / 10.0

 

“Cool World” (Ralph Bakshi) – 1992

Ridiculously bad on all accounts. This movie makes “Space Jam” look like an undisputed masterpiece.

GRADES:           D           * / * * * * *           2.4 / 10.0

 

“All the King’s Men” (Robert Rossen) – 1949

A true acting showcase. Obviously superior to the remake, yet still not coming close to grasping the depth and insight of the novel they’re both based on.

GRADES:           B           * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           7.0 / 10.0

 

“The Adventures of Robin Hood” (Michael Curtiz) – 1936

Definitely, the best film I’ve ever seen by Michael Curtiz. Like “Stagecoach,” it’s a source of pure inspiration for imagination and adrenaline.

GRADES:           A-           * * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           9.0 / 10.0

 

“Dodsworth” (William Wyler) – 1936

This early work by one of my favorite directors can be dry and unentertaining a times, but features great production value and an extremely satisfying climax.

GRADES:           B+            * * * * / * * * * *           7.8 / 10.0

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EW Ranks the Top Ten Worst Best Picture Wins

February 19, 2011 3 comments

It’s no doubt that “The Social Network” is the unanimous choice for Best Picture by this country’s critics. Entertainment Weekly’s own Lisa Schwarzbaum and Owen Gleiberman were united for the first time in years by both placing the film at the top of their lists. Therefore, it’s hard not to chuckle at the timing of this article: less than two weeks before “The King’s Speech” takes the home the gold at this year’s event.

I know. I’m such an opportunist. But let’s be serious. The 2011 Best Picture will eventually make it to this list. Just a matter of time. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at the past. This is a really good list. I’d almost like to make one of my own, except it would probably mirror this one quite a bit. Here’s the list:

10. “Forrest Gump” over “Pulp Fiction”
9. “The Last Emperor” over “Broadcast News,” “Fatal Attraction” or “Moonstruck”
8. “Around the World in Eighty Days” over “Giant”
7. “Gandhi” over “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”
6. “The English Patient” over “Fargo” or “Jerry Maguire”
5. “Dances with Wolves” over “Goodfellas”
4. “Chariots of Fire” over “Reds”
3. “Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan”
2. “How Green Was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane”
1. “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain”

The only one on this list that I really cannot concur with is “The Last Emperor.” While it’s certainly not an amazing film, neither was any of its competition. None of the other three films listed are any more deserving of the prize. 1987 on the whole was a pretty horrible year for cinema. My favorite was “Full Metal Jacket,” but even that film I have a difficult time calling Best Picture-worthy. Also, while the excruciatingly long and uneventful “Gandhi” was a shameful choice, “E.T.” would not be my pick from the nominees. For as much of a Spielberg whore as I am, his cuddly alien movie is not one of my favorites. Personally, I would have picked Sydney Pollack’s in-the-moment comedy, “Tootsie.”

My equivalent list would probably look like this:

10. “Chariots of Fire” over “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
9. “The Sting” over “A Clockwork Orange” or “The Last Picture Show”
8. “Going My Way” over “Double Indemnity”
7. “Titanic” over “L.A. Confidential”
6. “Dances with Wolves” over “Goodfellas”
5. “How Green Was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane”
4. “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain” or “Munich”
3. “Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan,” or even “The Thin Red Line”
2. “Rocky” over “Taxi Driver,” “All the President’s Men” or “Network”
1. “In the Heat of the Night” over “Bonnie and Clyde” or “The Graduate”

Masterpieces like “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Taxi Driver” losing out to works of pure mediocrity like “Rocky” and “In the Heat of the Night” are enough to make eyes roll. I still also remember watching Harvey Weinstein and his entourage taking the stage in 1999, not being able to move for twenty minutes, my blood boiling with rage. Same in 2006 with the ridiculous Paul Haggis. It’s enough to make one cry.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the “test of time” question, not many films earn it to the same extent as “Citizen Kane,” “Double Indemnity,” or even after 20 or 30 years, “Goodfellas” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” These films are considered works of art by critics, industry and audiences alike while their competition has faded into the video store walls.

Give it a year and expect to find “The King’s Speech” up on this list. Maybe some day the Academy will realize that history will judge their decisions, and their hindsight is not very kind, and nor should it be, considering some of these decisions.

Check out Entertainment Weekly’s article, with a slideshow and commentary. Also, if you want to see something funny, check out this video of “Shakespeare in Love” winning Best Picture and watch Harrison Ford’s dismayed expression after reading the name. I feel for you, buddy…