Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#85 A Night at the Opera (1935)

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a terrible habit of falling asleep in movies. Well, I had to restart this one three times because I kept trying to watch it while I was sleepy. Oops.

Everyone has heard of the Marx brothers, but this was the first time I had seen them in action. There were originally five Marx brothers who performed together in vaudeville, but by the time this movie was made, there were only three in the "group". Back in the early 1900's, it was the thing to make nicknames by attaching -O to the end of a name. Groucho was named for his disposition and his character is a witty, sneaky businessman; Chico (pronounced chick-o) was girl-crazy (chicks), and he does this weird half-Italian character; Harpo played the harp amazingly well and is goofy, but he never talks. I tried out Lindso and Travo for the rest of the night after I saw this. I don't think it really works for us.

After seeing this movie (and watching all of the extras on the DVD,) I began seeing this whole movie-watching experience as my own discovery of the history of pop culture. I enjoy seeing how much humor and entertainment has changed over the years, and while I've always been bored by the type of history I was taught in school (memorizing names and dates, mostly relating to wars), this type of history really appeals to me.

In some ways, like the strength of female characters in movies, we've progressed... in other ways, our vocabularies for one, we've regressed. I think about the reality shows we watch now for entertainment (I'm guilty of it, too), and the majority of it requires absolutely no thinking. All the shows on E! and Bravo are absolute crap... except of course "The Soup" that makes fun of it all.

This movie had so many clever one-liners that it was actually difficult for me to keep up. I'm not accustomed to needing to pay attention to every word. To get every joke, I'd need to see this movie at least another time or two.

Rating: 7/10

Big Names: Groucho, Chico, and Harpo Marx; Kitty Carlisle

Big Lines: I'm not sure, but is this a double entendre? I can't think of another way to take it. It's pretty intense for 1935....
Mrs. Claypool: Are you sure you have everything, Otis?
Mr. Driftwood: Well, I haven't had any complaints yet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

#86 Platoon (1986)

I've been doing such a good job of going in order lately!

So this is a war movie... a gruesome, disturbing, disgusting war movie. It is different from other war movies that I've seen, though. For one, it's autobiographical. It also doesn't put any sort of positive light on being in a war, and there aren't even any heroes. It's set in the Vietnam War, and unlike the WWII, WWI, or Civil War movies I've seen, you can't even really tell who the "good guys" are supposed to be. I think it was intentional for the director to set it up so that you're confused on who they're even fighting (pretty appropriate for the Vietnam War.)

I like that the director was showing us what I think is a truer version of war.  However, it's still a war movie, and for that, I have to say that while I respect that it's a great movie, I didn't personally enjoy watching it.

Rating: 4.5/10

Big Names: Oliver Stone (writer), Charlie Sheen (pretty impossible to take seriously now, but here's proof that he was once a respected actor), John McGinley (Dr. Cox from "Scrubs"!), Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp (small role)

Friday, March 11, 2011

#87 12 Angry Men (1957)

This is proof that films don't need a big budget, fancy special effects, or even more than a single scene to become a classic.

These 12 angry men are jurors for a case involving an 18-year-old accused of stabbing his father to death. We don't see any of the case itself; we only see the jurors discussing the verdict. It begins as an open-and-shut case, but a single juror believes that instead of immediately convicting the defendant, they should at least do him the honor of discussing the case. Through the course of the (short) movie, the one dissenting juror attempts to convince the other jurors one by one that they all have reasonable doubt that the young man is guilty.

I think this movie has powerful messages about the U.S. justice system. We are innocent until proven guilty, and each and every one of us deserves a fair trial...even the ones of us living on the rougher side of town. It also felt to me at first a division of conservatives and liberals, but in the end, all men agreeing on what is the right thing to do.

I read Roger Ebert's review of this movie, and he goes into the cinematography of the film. The director gradually changes lenses of longer focal lengths, so that as the movie goes on, the room starts to look and feel smaller. They also begin the movie shooting above eye level of the characters, so that you feel that the characters are manageable and understandable, but they slowly shift to shooting from below so that the characters seem more overwhleming, the ceiling can be seen and that it seems that not only the walls are closing in, but the ceiling is closing in as well.

Rating: 9/10

Big Names: Henry Fonda (co-producer and the dissenting juror)

#88 Bringing Up Baby (1938)

This movie's on the list of AFI's funniest movies of all time, which is deserved. I'll admit that some of the comedy was corny, and at times, Katharine Hepburn's character was pretty obnoxious, but it's amazing to me that a 73-year-old movie can still be so entertaining and hilarious.

It's a story of an awkward, straight-laced paleontologist (called a zoologist back then) named David (Cary Grant) who meets a crazy woman Susan (Katharine Hepburn). In her attempts to spend more time with him and keep him from marrying his boring fiancee, she gets him involved in the wildest situations... some involving her tame leopard named Baby.

This movie did terribly at the box office since '30s crowds didn't appreciate Hepburn's feminism and her strong personality. This movie actually cost the director his job, and Hepburn was forced out of her contract for it.

An interesting line in the movie is when Susan's aunt walks in, sees David wearing Susan's nightgown (since Susan had stolen all of his clothes), and asks him why he's wearing it. He's flustered and yells, "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!" I didn't know that "gay" meant that back in the '30s. According to IMDB, my favorite website in the world, it's one of the first times "gay" was used in its modern sense.

Rating: 7.5/10

Big Names: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant

Sunday, March 6, 2011

#91 Sophie's Choice (1982)

I had been putting this one off because I knew that Sophie was a Holocaust survivor, so I knew I needed to be in the right state of mind for this movie (if that would ever happen), and it wasn't one that I could fit in before work or between errands, for example. I actually saw it last Tuesday night, while Travis was out of town. I had been watching a minute of "The Daily Show" earlier that evening, and they made a joke mentioning Sophie's choice. I had had the movie from Netflix for about a week at that point, but I figured it was time and I was too curious to find out what her choice was.

This movie is narrated by a young writer moving from the South to Brooklyn in 1947 to begin his "big exploration." He rents a room of a house where Sophie and her boyfriend Nathan are also staying. As he becomes best friends with Sophie and Nathan, he hears her story of what she has gone through in her past, living through Auschwitz, nearly dying, and losing all of her loved ones. It's an incredibly intense movie, and when I learned what Sophie's "choice" was, it was the most chilling choice I could have ever imagined, and I'm tearing up now thinking about it.

This is certainly a movie that deserves to be on the list. Meryl Streep has an impressive and convincing performance as Sophie, and now I see why she has her reputation as such a very talented actress. From now on, she will probably always look like a Polish immigrant to me.

Rating: 8.5/10

Big Names: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol (from "Ally McBeal"), Josh Mostel (not really a big name, but I recognized him from Billy Madison!)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

#94 Pulp Fiction (1994)

This is one of my favorite movies, and it's one of the few on the list that I already own. It's a twisted story by Quentin Tarantino centered around a mob boss Marcellus Wallace, his wife, two of his hit men, a wrestler, and a couple of wanna-be thieves.

I love Tarantino's style. Even though the movie is over-the-top with violence, it's still hilarious and light. His way of intertwining the three main stories is so clever, and it showcases how far the movie industry has come since the simpler stories portrayed in the movies of the '30s and '40s.

This movie also reminded me I need to call Trav "honey bunny" more often. I think he would LOVE that.

Rating: 9.5/10

Big Names: Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman

#90 Swing Time (1936)

This was a "feel good" movie that actually made me happy. Fred Astaire plays Lucky, a broke, but talented dancer who, after being tricked into missing his own wedding, leaves for NYC to earn enough money to be again allowed to marry his fiancee. In NYC, he meets Penny (Ginger Rogers), a dance instructor, makes a terrible first impression, has her fired, and then, gets her job back by dancing with her. As they dance together, they fall in love. The storyline itself is pretty silly and predictable, it's a romantic comedy AND a musical, but there was enough substance and drama (unlike Yankee Doodle Dandy) for me to really enjoy this one. At first, I couldn't get over Astaire's look. I never would've guessed he was so goofy-looking. By the end of the movie, though, I thought he was adorable and charming.

The way show business worked back then was entirely different from now. Actors only acted in movies produced by the company they've signed with, so I think that's why movies were made almost exclusively to showcase the talent of their actors. I feel like this movie (and the other ~9 or 10 Rogers and Astaire made together) was written just for them. They're amazing to watch and had such good chemistry. I wouldn't mind seeing more of theirs.

Side note: One thing I've found completely shocking, though, is that this makes TWO movies on the list with actors performing in blackface makeup. That's something that definitely shows the movie's age.

Rating: 8/10

Big Names: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers