Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movies in Review: My Best Rentals of 2010 (Part 2 of 2)

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Family/ Fantasy
Voices of Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Rated G

When I first started this film, John Lasseter, head of Pixar and director of “Toy Story”, greeted me and introduced the film, talking briefly about how much it inspired him personally. It was a warm welcome and helped me realize that I was about to witness a piece of art. The story is about a young girl who can fly on a broomstick, who travels to a costal village to learn more about her newfound gift. The film is very light on actual plot, but heavy on using emotions to guide the story, something which can be difficult to do in a fully animated feature.

“Kiki” is gentle coming of age story that wafts and lingers like the scent of a summer breeze after a peaceful rain shower. The characters are charming and endearing each playing a full symphony on your heartstrings amidst a beautiful world of colors and textures like the foundations of a daydream. I admired how early on we establish that each character has psychical weight, which the makes the scenes of flight all the more breathtaking. Everything about it was so captivating down the wind blown grass and sparkling beads of dew that I couldn’t even bring myself to look away.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo
Directed by Nicholas Ray
No Rating

The visual tone of this film has an interesting effect. The colors look rain washed, like witnessing the aftermath of a mighty storm. This perfectly reflects the struggles of the teenaged Jim (James Dean) stumbling through life and his conflicts with his parents and peers that lead to a series of rash actions.

Curiously, there are at least two TV funnymen in supporting roles such as Jim Backus (The Millionaire from “Gilligan’s Island”) as Jim’s father and Edward Platt (The Chief from “Get Smart”) as the chief of police. Despite how we may think of them today, both characters play their parts seriously while others provide the levity and humor necessary to balance such a dark story.

Sabrina (1954)
Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden
Directed by Billy Wilder
No Rating

I tend to view movies the way connoisseurs taste wine. Testing it and seeking to understand it beforehand, moving on to writing my reviews mere minutes after end credits have rolled. Conversely, I cannot think of many times when I have reacted so much to a film as this one. I laughed longer and harder during this movie than any other film I have seen in the past year.

After snubbing the advances of his chauffeur’s daughter, Sabrina. David, a carefree playboy begins to see her in a new light, which puts his arranged engagement in jeopardy, and its up to his strictly business brother, Linus to try and straighten things out, only to end up with feeling for Sabrina himself.

All of the characters seemed to be armed with a hefty supply of one-liners and snappy comebacks. William Holden exhibits excellent comic timing and Audrey Hepburn is as charming to watch as ever.

The Searchers (1956)
John Wayne, Jeffery Hunter, Vera Miles
Directed by John Ford
No Rating

John Wayne continues to demonstrate why he is an icon of the genre with this strong role as seeks to rescue his kidnapped niece from the weary and savage west.

This is quite possibly the most beautiful cinematography I have ever seen in a movie. Filmed in Utah’s Monument Valley, every shot is dynamic, conveying the expansive yet strangely beautiful loneliness and danger of the frontier, opening up a world made of solitude unlike anything before.

Emotions run raw as our heroes cross the treacherous territory, experiencing highs and lows as they encounter both hope and futility in their long quest.

With illustrative sights, a strong story, able characters and a subtle sense of humor, "The Searchers" is easily one of the best Westerns ever made.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Rated G

The original “Toy Story” was one the first films I can remember seeing as a child. I had the opportunity to rewatch both films in anticipation for this unexpected sequel. The two previous films, despite their age and the changes in the technology felt as fresh and inventive as they did when they were first made. In many ways watching these films as an adult helped my understanding of the some of the gags and plot points.

While I thought the film had more situational humor than the character based interactions I enjoyed so much about the first two, it does match the tone of its predecessors perfectly. I only wish that I could go back in time and prevent myself from seeing the trailers for this film, which contained some of the film’s best jokes. If I had seen these gags without knowing what to expect, I imagine I would have been completely breathless from laughing, instead I settled for roaring with amusement in my chair.

Like Pavlov’s dog salivating to the sound of the bell, my eyes well up with tears each time I view the ending. Closing with the message; cherish your memories, and pass them on. What better way to end the year then with that?

If that wasn't enough, here are my recommend rental runners up. Perhaps I'll write about them some other time.

  • 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
  • The Apartment
  • Blade Runner
  • Chinatown
  • Castle in the Sky
  • Double Indemnity
  • Enter the Dragon
  • The Fly (1986)
  • Frost/Nixon
  • The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
  • The Hurt Locker
  • In the Heat of the Night
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • The Karate Kid (2010)
  • Let the Right One In
  • Mad Love (1935)
  • Marty
  • Predator
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Quiz Show
  • RoboCop
  • Rocky
  • Roman Holiday
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Some Like It Hot
  • The Usual Suspects
  • Zombieland

Movies in Review: My Best Rentals of 2010 (Part 1 of 2)

I love movies of all kinds, from all different genres and cultures. Unfortunately, I don’t get as much of a chance to go out to see current movies at the theaters. But I find I can often get more mileage out of renting older movies from the local video store. While other critics will likely bombard you with lists of their favorite theatrically released pictures that you may have already seen, here is my list of movies that I watched at home. Some you may know but never seen and some you may never have heard of at all. It took a while to narrow down all my choices to these; the top ten best movies that I saw for the first time this year.

A Patch of Blue (1965)
Starring Sidney Poitier, Shelly Winters
Directed by Guy Green
No Rating

A blind white teenage girl and black man discover an unlikely friendship.

Performances are everything in this movie. Sidney Poitier delivers his part with considerable grace, acting as a mentor and friend to Shelly Winters (in her Oscar winning role) who perfectly personifies the role of a modern day Cinderella, liberated from her abusive family and experiencing the everyday pleasures of life for the first time.

The late Jerry Goldsmith provides a remarkable score for this film. Primary known for his big rousing action movie music, here he is able to create a soft, gentle symphony that feels like a lofting summer wind. He also shows great skill, knowing when be silent and gives the audience an opportunity to linger on the emotions of the actors.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Directed by George Romero
Rated R

Recognizing the danger of the coming zombie apocalypse, four strangers find refuge in an abandoned shopping mall. While they have every conceivable comfort imaginable, over time we discover the futility of their daily living. The isolation from the rest of deceased remains of humanity slowly drives them mad.

The zombies in this movie are slow and lumbering with silver painted skin and blank

expressions. They are all dressed like they were about to go somewhere and had lives, jobs and purpose before they suddenly died. These are “blanks”; they look human, but have been wiped clean of anything that made them people. Their appearance serves as a haunting mirror of what our survivors stand to lose. It felt almost as if their soul had been wiped away and left behind nothing but the empty shell and is a subtle, yet terrifying concept to consider. The film is a masterpiece in multiple layers of horror ranging from shocking to subtle.

Dirty Harry (1971)
Starring Clint Eastwood, Andrew Robinson
Directed by Don Siegel
Rated R

“You’ve got to ask yourself: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

The quote, paraphrased and recycled throughout the decades, still weighs heavily when spoken by Clint Eastwood’s most indelible character. Through then lens of director Don Siegel’s brilliant camera work, the streets of San Francisco become a maze as the cynical Police Inspector Harry Callahan hunts a deadly serial killer.

This film was crucial in starting the “cop on the edge, who doesn’t play by the rules” archetype. While we side with Harry’s devotion to justice because we follow his point of view, amidst the pulse pounding suspense and violent action scenes, the movie encourages viewers to reach their own conclusion about whether or not Harry’s actions are in the right or wrong. Harry himself contemplates his decisions in the final frame that serves as a monumental deconstruction of the action hero.

Gone With The Wind (1939)
Starring Vivian Leigh, Clark Gable
Directed by Victor Fleming
Not Rated

This is a movie that I must admit, is difficult to sit through. I don’t mean that is difficult because of its four hour run time, or its historical setting that is so vastly different from out own, or because of its

harlequin romance tropes. No, what makes this a difficult is that our two lead characters, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, are horrible people. Scarlett is a cold, harsh woman who lusts after her best friend’s husband and is willing to manipulate the emotions of others in order to get what she wants. Rhett is a rougish womanizer, who is just as, if not more self-serving. Then why, you might ask, have I placed this on a list of movies that I enjoyed the most in the past year?

I find something refreshing about characters who are willing to admit their selfishness and it does help that we see these people change in the face of adversity. Scarlett does not sit around and wait to be rescued, but takes action into her own hands and by patient industry works to rebuild the life she once knew and loved. The onslaught of war devastates the Old South, and while it has been presented like our human leads as beautiful but flawed, seeing it in blazes, almost brings a tear to my eye. The conflict is presented with remarkable scale. In particular, there is a scene in which the camera pulls back on a field covered in the bodies of wounded and bloodied soldiers, is a heart-stopping image.

Those looking for a more shorter and more lighthearted movie may want to stop at the intermission at the two hour mark, where you’re most likely to find a more optimistic conclusion than how the film actually closes.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerald Butler
Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean BeLois
Rated PG

If I were to attempt to describe the plot of this film, I could say that it is the best of “The Hero’s Journey” plus a “Coming of Age High School Story” multiplied by “A Boy and His Dog”. Hiccup Haddock is a string bean of a gangly teenager living in a village of muscle bound Vikings, constantly at war with viscous dragons. However, when Hiccup inadvertently captures a young dragon, he finds it is a social animal and develops a strong friendship and understanding with the creature.

Ordinarily Dreamworks Animation causes me to roll my eyes and turn off my brain, as they are best known for assaulting the viewers with smarmy pop culture references and over-the-top celebrity voice cameos. However, in recent years their animated feature have developed remarkable maturity in visual style as well as storytelling with movies like “Kung Fu Panda” and “Monsters vs. Aliens”. With that said, “How to Train your Dragon” represents an astonishing new leap in what this studio is capable of doing.

The setting and the characters showcase an amazing level of detail when it comes to animation. The expressive body language of the dragons is dynamic and the flight sequences easily steal the show.