Tag Archive for 'AFI'

His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday (3/29/14) TCM (1940 ****) Directed by Howard Hawks, based on the play “The Front Page” by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy. An engaged female newspaper reporter gets lured into writing a big story by a slick-talking editor who happens to be her ex-husband. I’m pretty certain I’ve watched this film at least once since reviewing it back in 2008. It’s one of my wife’s favorite movies, along with The Thin Man and The Philadelphia Story. It’s clear my wife has wonderful taste in classic films. What can I possibly write that wouldn’t be repeating myself? Hell, if you’re reading this and you’ve never watched this film, do yourself a favor and rent it or stream it or whatever. And if you’re a fan of Aaron Sorkin, it might just interest you to know there’s a direct line that can be drawn between His Girl Friday and the sparkling dialogue in The West Wing. (Favorite)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (5/13/13) IFC (1964 ****) Directed by Stanley Kubrick, screenplay by Kubrick, Terry Southern and Peter George, based on the book Red Alert by Peter George, starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden and Slim Pickens. A general obsessed with the adverse effects of fluoridation on his “precious bodily fluids” exceeds his authority and launches an atomic attack on the Soviet Union. Simply put, this is an amazing film, and with each scene I marveled at the brilliant and gutsy choices Kubrick made. The combination of cinema verite with black comedy was incredibly powerful, and this film is a direct descendant of Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970). Given this approach, it was an especially daring choice to cast Peter Sellers in three roles: Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley and the titular Dr. Strangelove. This multi-casting in comedies had been done before, even as far back as Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). It shouldn’t have worked in the context of a comedy about nuclear holocaust, and yet it did. There’s a reason this film is on so many “must see” lists, and even though we’re no longer living under the same threat of atomic annihilation, somehow we can still relate. And of course, there’s still the issue of fluoridation…

A Night at the Opera

A Night at the Opera (10/8/12) TCM (1935 ***1/2) Directed by Sam Wood, starring Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, with Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones and (of course) Margaret Dumont. Fast talking agent Otis B. Driftwood signs “the world’s greatest opera singer,” then boards a transatlantic steamship where his diminutive cabin… Aw, bananas! Who cares about the plot, am I right? It’s the freakin’ Marx Brothers, for cryin’ out loud! From the first few brilliant lines of impeccably paced, fresh-as-the-day-it-was-written dialogue to the last, this film demonstrates in no uncertain terms the brilliance of the Marx Brothers’ patented mix of comedy and anarchy. And Chico and Harpo even got a nice juicy scene to showcase their musical talents as well. This film is clearly a must-see classic… with only one small caveat: It breaks my heart, but my only reason for not giving A Night at the Opera a full four stars is that way too much screen time was devoted to its stupid contractually-required “boy gets girl” B-story, which I’m sure bored audiences in 1935 just much as it did me in 2012.

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men (9/29/12) Netflix (1957 ****) Directed by Sidney Lumet, screenplay by Reginald Rose (based on his teleplay), starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, Jack Klugman and others. A troubled young man is on trial for killing his father and the only thing standing between him and the electric chair is Juror #8. There’s no wonder this film is on the AFI’s list of top 100 films. For a movie adapted from a TV show and set almost entirely in a single confined setting (a jury room), it really packed a wallop. And of course it’s still as relevant now as it was then. This must have been an actor’s dream, portraying awesome, though in some cases thoroughly unlikable, characters like these twelve… yes, angry… men. Henry Fonda’s strong performance as the film’s main character, Juror #8, demonstrated why he’s considered one of film history’s great actors. Finally, on a personal note: For some reason, one of my favorite moments in the film is when Klugman asks Fonda and the other jurors: “You ever see a knife fight?”


Tootsie (9/9/12) Netflix (1982 ****) Directed by Sydney Pollack, screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, starring Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr and Bill Murray. Yes, Dorothy, it is difficult being a woman in the 80s. Out of work actor Michael Dorsey gets a job on a soap opera when he auditions as Dorothy Michaels. Sometimes you wonder how “truly great” movies come to be. Watching the “making of” featurette on the recently released 30th anniversary DVD, it was clear that a lot of people (especially Hoffman) worked their asses off over three long years to get this movie made right. And boy did they get it right! Every scene, every line of dialogue is pitch-perfect. This is especially amazing considering how many things could have gone so terribly wrong. Dustin Hoffman in drag? Come on! It could have been a complete disaster! But thankfully the filmmakers believed in what they were doing and managed to craft a film that not only worked brilliantly as a comedy (though apparently most of the actors had no idea how funny it was) but was also about something was no less important than equality of women and what it takes to be a better man. Though I hadn’t watched it in probably 20 years, it still holds up, fresh and funny as ever. Tootsie well deserves its inclusion in AFI’s Top 100 Films list.

Sullivan’s Travels

Sullivan’s Travels (8/18/12) TCM (1941 ***1/2) Written and directed by Preston Sturges, starring Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake and William Demarest. A big-shot Hollywood director dresses up as a hobo and hits the road to learn about life in order to make a movie called O Brother, Where Art Thou? This comedy is on AFI’s Top 100 Movies list, and I’d watched it years ago. My recollection is that I was under-impressed. This time around I feel like I “got it” a bit more, though I still felt the frantic slapstick chase scene through the countryside that occured early on was pretty darn disharmonious with the tone of the rest of the film. Ultimately, while I acknowledge the film’s “greatness,” I don’t think I’ll ever count it as one of my personal favorites, like Casablanca or The Godfather. Somehow the film’s final message — that the best antidote to a world full of strife sorrow is a little Hollywood-style screwball comedy (or at least a Walt Disney Pluto cartoon) — wasn’t entirely lost on me, but it also felt a tad self-serving.

North by Northwest

North by Northwest (8/15/12) Netflix (1959 ****) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by Ernest Lehman, starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau and Leo G. Carroll. Madison Avenue ad man Roger O. Thornhill gets mistaken for a fictional government agent, framed for murder and swept up in a combination spy chase / cross-country tour. I read recently that the title North by Northwest was actually completely meaningless and that one of the film’s rejected titles was, believe it or not, The Man on Lincoln’s Nose. Of all the Hitchcock films, this one is probably the most Hitchcock-iest. Every shot, every beat, every scene was engineered and storyboarded down to the last frame. No wonder it made such an impact when it was first released and has become a beloved classic. We watched it on Blu-Ray and I highly recommend you do the same or — better yet — find an opportunity to see it on the big screen. The vivid Technicolor color design was stunning and the effects (particularly a climactic chase across the faces of four American presidents) still stood up more than fifty years later. As a special treat, this film also offers the granddaddy of all “walking away from explosions” shots! Bernard Herrmann’s superb musical score ran through the whole thing pulling it together elegantly. As for the actors, Eva Marie Saint played a Hitchcockian blonde with sexiness and restraint and Martin Landau played a (subtley gay) henchmen with menace and aplomb. And finally, though he never quite received the respect as an actor that some of his contemporaries did, in North by Northwest Cary Grant managed to take his “Cary Grant” persona and twist it to brilliant effect. He was even given plenty of opportunities to make use of his brilliant high comedy timing.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (8/10/12) Netflix (1975 ****) Directed by Milos Forman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey, starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, with supporting performances by Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Scatman Crothers and Brad Dourif. Sanitarium inmate R.P. McMurphy matches wits with the sadistic Nurse Ratched, armed only with his boyish charm and a deck of nudie playing cards. It’s sadly rare when I find myself watching a film and thinking, “Holy shit, this is a truly great movie!” Nicholson’s performance was pitch-perfect and Milos Foreman crafted a seemingly effortless naturalistic tone poem on the effects of institutionalization on the human condition. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest deservedly won five Oscars, including Best Picture, netting an Oscar for none other than Michael Douglas as one of its producers. I don’t always watch DVD “making of” featurettes, but I was so impressed by the film’s quality that I simply had to. The film had a fascinating backstory: Michael Douglas’ father, Kirk Douglas, originally bought the rights to Kesey’s book in the early 1960s. The elder Douglas even had a play written by Dale Wasserman, in which he subsequently starred during its short run on Broadway. And so the film was somewhat of a “family affair.” I also found it more than a little amusing to learn that co-screenwriter Bo Goldman had based Nurse Ratched’s speech patterns on his own mother-in-law, who he described as “having a PhD in passive aggression.” Great film!

High Noon

High Noon (7/31/12) Netflix (1952 ****) Directed by Fred Zinnemann, based (kind of) on the story “The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham, starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges and Katy Jurado. As a wedding present, a departing sheriff’s town deserts him, leaving him to face four vindictive gunmen on his own. This film was made during Hollywood’s “Red Scare,” and its screenplay was written by Carl Foreman, an “uncooperative witness” before the House Committee on Un-American Activies, who was subsequently blacklisted. His story — in which a man tries to do the right thing but everybody he counted on turns his or her back on him for reasons of self-preservation — was clearly an allegory for McCarthyism. “Do not forsake me, oh my darling,” indeed. There are many reasons why this film (shot in stark, cloudless black and white at a time when most Westerns were made in color) is ranked in the top third of AFI’s “100 Years 100 Movies” list. Everything about it works, from Gary Cooper and newcomer Grace Kelly’s classic performances to the carefully-composed shots of ever-present clocks, representing the arrival of the noon train and a vengeful villain with a reputation for roughing up the ladies. On a completely unrelated note, how cool was it that High Noon‘s “boss villain” — who went unseen until the third act — was named Frank Miller, same as the comic book writer/illustrator behind the now-classic 1986 Batman graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns?


Vertigo (4/27/12) Netflix (1958 ***1/4) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. Set in San Francisco, a retired police detective with a nasty case of acrophobia (fear of heights) becomes obsessed with a possessed platinum blonde. My father and I wanted to see this film, introduced by Kim Novak herself, at the TCM Classic Film Festival. But after walking in the rain, then waiting for two hours to watch Novak’s somewhat disappointing interview by Robert Osborne, we ended up calling it a day instead. As kind of a consolation prize, a few days later I put Vertigo at the top of my Netflix queue. It’s worth noting that this film ranks at number 9 on the AFI’s Top 100 list, though I can’t say I’d rank it quite that high myself. I certainly respect it, but I don’t know how much I really liked it. Part of the problem was its slow pace, and at 128 minutes, it felt long. Not just long overall, but in many of the scenes it seemed Hitchcock told Jimmy Stewart to act at half-speed, as though he were moving underwater. It can be argued that Vertigo is a suspense film and so that pacing was appropriate, but there were several times when… well, frankly I got bored. The other main reason this film isn’t on my personal list of favorites is because of the direction the story took. I understand that the film’s major theme was obsession, but its third act descended into some pretty creepy territory, and the scenes between Stewart and Novak that had been designed to make me, the viewer, uncomfortable… Well, they just left a bad taste in my mouth. But in spite of my considerable reservations, there was plenty to like about Vertigo, too, particularly in the ear and eye candy department: Its score by Bernard Herrmann has been borrowed from and sampled over the years (Most recently by the Oscar-winning The Artist) for a reason. I also loved the title sequence and the film looks gorgeous, from beginning to end. Vertigo‘s now-famous visual effects were absolutely brilliant for the time, and they’re still awesome. A particular visual delight was that all the exteriors for the film were shot at several well-known locations in and around San Francisco. That was a special treat for me or anyone who’s ever lived in — or in my case, near — the “City by the Bay.”