I haven’t given up on 100 Days, 100 Movies. Promise! But I was finishing up edits on my book and my sister and I were thinking of using 100 Movies as a launchpad for our podcast (my sister is funnier than me and smarter too. You’ll love her!). So 100 Days 100 Movies WILL continue, I’m still just figuring out what form it will take.
In the meantime, at my writer’s group last week, the teacher had us do this exercise where we had to freewrite to the prompt “Who do you think you aren’t?”
I was pretty pleased with the results so (after some minimal editing) I thought I’d share my own brainspew here…
I’m not the put together girl.
I’m not the social butterfly.
I’m not the flirt.
(Until I am the flirt.)
I’m not a do-gooder.
I’m not a shrinking violet.
I’m not a damsel in distress.
I’m not a 50s housewife.
(I just wanna dress like one.)
I am not meticulous but I am detail-oriented.
I am not easy-going.
I am not low-maintenance.
I am not clever enough.
I am not patient.
I’m not a princess, I’m the mother-fucking Queen.
I am not the girl next door.
I am not a follower.
I am not brave enough.
I don’t give myself enough credit.
I am not a Beauty. I am not boring. I am not a good driver. I am not a redhead. Or a blonde. Or a brunette.
(What color is my hair anyway?)
I’m not deep enough. Appearance still matters.
I am more than a label. Any label.
I’m not neat, but I am not a mess.
Cheated a little today. I re-watched All About Eve, starring the incomparable Bette Davis. All About Eve is #16 on the 1998 list and #28 on the 2007 one. I’ve actually seen this film many times before. It’s become one of my favorites. So much delicious bitchiness. I’ve even blogged about this film before. (I’m gonna borrow from that old blog a little but not much if you’ve read it before.)
IMDB synopsis: “An ingenue insinuates herself in to the company of an established but aging stage actress and her circle of theater friends.”
So, after seeing this film, I can understand why Bette Davis lobbied so hard to play Margo Channing when they handed her the script. And I know why she’s still known for this part half a century later. Margot Channing is one of the juiciest parts for an actress, any actress, any age, ever written. She’s queenly and broken. Lovelorn and cold. And every scene she’s in was probably fabulous to play as an actress.
I have to say the scheming young actress plot in All About Eve has always felt a bit stale for me, but that’s because this is the movie that basically spawned all the scheming young actress plots. This is the original, and if you’ve got to have the scheming young actress you couldn’t do worse– or better or– something than Eve Harrington. Anne Baxter plays her as the epitome of cool and serene…up until the moment she flips and you see the conniving little bitch that was hiding there the whole time. Delicious.
Ironically, one scene that really stood out for me this time is when we have Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Marilyn Monroe in a scene together. Davis and Baxter are the stars of the film and yet I’m watching Monroe. Ah, star power. Marilyn had it even then.
Another real stand out is George Sanders as Addison DeWitt, a sort of Oscar Wilde-esque theater critic who pulls strings just to watch things fall apart. He’s charming. He’s an even bigger schemer than Eve, and he’s a treat to watch as he struts and drawls and delivers fabulous lines like: “You’re maudlin and full of self-pity. You’re magnificent!”
What really made this movie for me, though, was the romance between Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill). Margo is the aging older star and Bill is the up and coming young director, and he’s just nuts about Margo, but she’s so hung up on the age difference she can’t see it. Davis and Merrill got married in real life after this movie and that doesn’t surprise me one bit the way their chemistry just zings onscreen. They had a rough ride as a couple onscreen and off, but you can see why they both thought it was worth it. (Serious zing, I’m tellin’ ya.)
At one point they’re fighting and he throws her on a prop bed and holds her down while he pours out his frustration about her pushing him away. The scene was probably pretty risque in 1950, and the tension between them so wonderfully treads the line between passion and violence. (If this movie was made today they probably would have had hot angry sex on the prop bed.) But underneath the frustration and the fighting and the regret their romance is just so freaking sweet.
Maybe because I was really watching the film closely this time the ending upset me more than it has in the past. Eve’s ambitious, bitchy, scheming, and yet she basically ends up in sexual slavery to Addison deWitt indefinitely–until he tires of her. It strikes me as a bit…uneven. A moralistic punishment from the filmmakers. I guess this would be a post-feminist slant I’m taking now? ;P
I dunno. But this film seems problematic to me in a way it never has before. It’s a film about two strong women–the iconic film about two strong women in fact–and yet both of them end up tamed or toothless by the end. In the end Margot Channing, leading light of the stage, a born star, takes a step back from her career to enjoy a simple married life. And Eve Harrington, master schemer and bitch extraordinaire, doesn’t get to enjoy her success because she’s one-upped by a man. *shrug* I’ve no deeper insights to offer than that. Still, interesting the things we take away from films as we get older. How movies change because we’ve changed.
I do still love the last shot, though, where it’s clear it’s all going to start all over again with a new Eve and Margot, and over and over and over as long as there are ambitious ingenues and aging stars.
What did I learn from this movie? Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. This is from an older school of screen-writing that was much closer kin to play-writing. Every line, every word was scrutinized for maximum effect. There are maybe one of two speeches of Bill’s where he gets melodramatic/didactic which didn’t age well. But, otherwise, every line of dialogue in this movie pops. You could basically quote any line in the script, they’re all winners. A few examples:
Margo Channing: I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut.
Margo Channing: Margo Channing is ageless – spoken like a press agent.
Lloyd Richards: I know what I’m talking about. After all, they’re my plays.
Margo Channing: Spoken like an author. Lloyd, I’m not twenty-ish, I’m not thirty-ish. Three months ago I was forty years old. Forty. Four O. That slipped out. I hadn’t quite made up my mind to admit it. Now I suddenly feel as if I’ve taken all my clothes off.
Lloyd Richards: How about calling it a night?
Margo Channing: And you pose as a playwright? A situation pregnant with possibilities and all you can think of is everybody go to sleep.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Yup. Great performances all around. Masterful dialogue. Good plot. Drama. Thea-tuh! Angst. Romance. And Bette Davis giving the performance of her life–of many lifetimes. All About Eve belongs on the list absolutely.
Favorite part(s)? All the Bill/Margot stuff, especially the scene on the bed and the scene where he runs to her side when Eve turns on Margot. The romance really is wonderful. I also enjoy Addison de Witt in every moment he’s onscreen.
Overall rating: ***** (I loved it!)
And now, a small treat, the trailer! (From the Blu-Ray I think?)
Sorry we had a little hiatus. I just got a promotion at work (day job) and this was my first week in the new position so things were a big hectic. Anyway, on we merrily go with my mission to watch 100+ of the movies on the AFI Top 100 American films of all time (up to 2007).
I hadn’t heard of this film before I started my AFI project, and when I sat down to watch it all I knew was that the adorable Myrna Loy was in it and it featured real-life amputee Harold Russell in one of the lead roles.
Here’s the plot synopsis from imdb for anybody else like me who’s never heard of this wonderful movie:
“Three WWII veterans return home to small-town America to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed.”
The three vets in question are Sgt. Al Stephenson, who was in the infantry during the war and is a well-off banker back at home. Captain Fred Derry was an ace bomber with a pin-up for a wife during the war, but now at home he’s a broke soda jerk in an unhappy marriage . Lastly, we follow sailor, Homer Parrish, who was a star athlete at home but lost both his hands at the wrist to a fire during the war.
Al is trying to adjust to peacetime, to being back with his loving family, going to his boring deskjob, trying to fit back into a life he can barely remember. Fred is likewise having problems going from being “an officer and a gentleman” in the Air Force to just another out of work bum at home. And Homer…Homer just wants “to be treated like everyone else.” And yet he can’t quite bring himself to reach out to Wilma, the girl he left behind. He doesn’t believe she would want to be with him anymore.
This film is very moving. It made me miss my grandfather. He was a WWII vet, and he died when I was just a baby so I never got to know him at all. It’s an odd feeling to miss someone you’ve never met…I think that’s part of why this film is a classic–because it touches you so deeply. The story is very simple, maybe even bordering on melodramatic at times. But you feel for these people, the soldiers, their loved ones. You want them so desperately to be happy, to be all right. I wept like a baby at the ending. From relief. From happiness. The moment where Homer puts the ring on his bride’s hand and the whole congregation is holding their breath and you, the audience, are holding your breath. And then the ring is on, and he smiles, and they kiss. God, so incredible.
I can’t remember the last time a movie got to me like this. The sense of hope in this is just marvelous. But you also get a sense of the cost the veterans have to pay, the difficulties they face. The beginning of the film focuses on this more than the ending (which is a little rushed), but by the end you are rooting for these guys so much it’s hard to want to see them suffer anymore. (Can I just say how amazing it is to watch Harold Russell? He’s so dexterous with his hooks, and when you think about the training, the patience it must have taken him to learn and be able to do all the things he does…It’s incredible.)
I would say the film does get the slightest bit didactic/preachy at times in a “These are our boys. They fought for us. Honor them” kind of way, but I don’t really fault it for that because it’s a worthy message, and those scenes are only a few moments in an otherwise affecting, effective and, yes, entertaining film. Besides, in 1946 I think America probably needed a movie like this, needed a character like Homer to show that the disabled vets were still people, that they could still live normal lives. That they were capable.
I did have a slight problem with how in the middle Homer became a bit of a story catalyst instead of a character. What I mean is, in the middle, his story didn’t really move forward, but he kept showing up and just by virtue of his presence and the very physical reminder of his service, the other two main characters were motivated to take action. But, there again, the beginning and the ending gave Homer such juicy, meaningful scenes I’ll let that minor quibble slide. Still: always give your characters agency. Having them doing things, not inspiring others to do things.
The love story in this is also really well structured. Al’s daughter Peggy falls for Fred, but Fred had one of those hasty war marriages and now he’s stuck with a very unsympathetic harpy for a wife. This is one of the parts that could have crossed over into melodrama land, except the characters are so reasonable throughout. They confide in people, they try to be straight with each other. I thought this subplot was handled very well, and the conflict of it appealed to me. If only Fred had waited to get home he would have found the perfect girl waiting for him. I might steal this subplot for one of my own stories if I can figure out how to work it in.
Overall, I really liked this movie. It’s over two and a half hours long, but it didn’t seem that long. It felt like a “small” movie actually, intimate, tightly plotted. I think everyone should see this film to get an idea of the sort of trials our troops go through and just how much thanks we owe them for their duty and service.
What did I learn from this movie? Probably the focus on characters. We get a long intro where we follow each soldier on his way home. They all end up on the same plane together and they share stories and cigarettes. Then, on the ground, one by one each man gets out of the taxi they’re sharing and goes in to see what his welcome will be like at home. By the end of that segment we are very firmly attached to these guys, rooting for them. So, again: take the time to set up your characters, invest the audience in them, and your film will have that much more of an emotional punch.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Yes. And again I say, in utter seriousness, I think this is a film that everyone should see. Maybe if you only watch one of these “classic” films on the list…watch this one.
Favorite part(s)? All the Homer scenes. My God. Harold Russell got not one but two Oscars for his performance and he wasn’t a professional actor. As Wikipedia tells the story, “the Academy Board of Governors considered him a long shot to win [Best Supporting Actor], they gave him an honorary award ‘for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance’. When Russell won Best Supporting Actor, there was an enthusiastic response. He is the only actor to have received two Academy Awards for the same performance.”
He deserved the Oscar. Both of them. I already mentioned the wedding scene, but the other really beautiful moment with Homer is when his childhood sweetheart Wilma comes over, trying to convince him one last time that she loves him and wants a life with him. He asks her to go upstairs with him so she can see what her life would be like with him, what she’ll have to deal with. He takes his bathrobe off and for the first time she (and we, the audience) see the braces on his arms, the socks he wears over his stumps. He expects her to reject him and instead she embraces him. He’s still Homer. She still loves him. Ah. It’s manipulative as hell to the audience because we know the girl’s not going to reject him. But still, it got me. But the really great moment is after she leaves and he’s lying in bed alone we see Homer silently crying in bed. He didn’t believe it could be true until that moment. And then we get the wedding and then the crying. Really powerful stuff, and so well done.
See this movie! Seriously!
Overall Rating: **** (I really liked the film. I loved the Homer storyline.)
Today I watched Lawrence of Arabia. #5 on the 1998 list and #7 on the 2007 list. Yesterday I picked the shortest movie I could find on the list. Today, perhaps out of perversity, I picked one the longest.
Here’s the imdb page and here’s the synopsis quoted from said imdb page: “A flamboyant and controversial British military figure and his conflicted loyalties during his World War I service in Arabia.”
Wow. Where to start with this one? There’s so much I almost feel like this needs two posts. (Not least because at 3 hours and 45 minutes this film is basically twice the length of a normal film. It has an overture and an intermission and everything!)
This is a truly great film. The performances. The visuals. The poetry of the dialogue. That desert…so beautiful. The story is riveting. Lawrence himself is just fascinating to watch. Yes, it’s a four hour movie but his internal struggles, his dedication to the Arab cause, his love for his comrades…it is just all so compelling I never really felt the film drag. I basically watched it in one go without stopping–except at intermission for a pee break. The main actors in this (O’Toole, Sharif and Quinn) were fantastic. O’Toole is gorgeous and riveting and tragic. Sharif is loyal and solid and also gorgeous. Quinn is brutal but somehow appealing. Fantastic acting. Top notch.
But, man, this film is BLEAK. And the crazy thing it’s not even bleak because the main character is killed in the first two minutes. His senseless death is really the least tragic thing that happens to Lawrence in this film. The first half is wonderful, you get to see him come into his own, establish a rapport with these people. The British don’t value him, don’t understand what he can do and then he goes to the Arabs and becomes just magnificent. But then we get the hubris and his downfall. We watch his beautiful soul get chipped, corroded, then finally crushed with each successive scene. It’s hard to take. The first act is an adventure story. The second act is a Greek tragedy.
I found the homoeroticism in this to be pretty interesting. It’s very much that coy 60s thing we get in Spartacus where if you know to look for the subtext it is there. Boy, it is there. But if you’re naive enough to overlook it you won’t see anything at all except male friendship. It’s all oysters and snails. If that makes sense. Watching it, though, I was struck how the romance between Omar Sharif and O’Toole is pretty much played as a straight love story. Just without the kissing. (If one of them had been a woman there would have been kissing.) They don’t even do the usual thing movies used to do of adding in a token female love interest to sort of “throw people off the scent” of the homoeroticism. (There are no speaking parts for women in this movie at all. Quite a feat at over 3 hours.) But, anyway, I really loved the romance in the first half. I love that the filmmakers did play it that way, sincerely and without judgement or winking. Just a deep respect and affection between these two men. I wish there had been kissing actually, O’Toole and Sharif had fantastic chemistry. (Just as a side note: historians seem to think the real Lawrence was either homosexual or asexual. None of the arguments seem to lean too strongly toward him being straight.)
I also wanted to mention the dialogue. This film feels a bit like poetry in motion, which is a cliche but my God, look at that one shot of the sunset, listen to the beautiful exchanges and debates they have. If any film is a work of art then this one is.
Also, as a bonus, the line’s get pretty funny at times:
[asked by reporter if he knew Lawrence]
Jackson Bentley: Yes, it was my privilege to know him and to make him known to the world. He was a poet, a scholar and a mighty warrior.
[after reporter leaves]
Jackson Bentley: He was also the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum & Bailey.
Prince Feisal: With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.
Bartender: [after Lawrence enters with a dirty Bedouin] This is a bar for British officers!
T.E. Lawrence: That’s all right. We’re not particular.
Overall, I really loved this movie, but I’m not sure I’ll watch it again all the way through. It’s very draining emotionally. Unsettling. And you don’t even get the cathartic release of a good cry like you do at the end of Spartacus (at least I always bawl my brains out at the end of Spartacus). The ending of this film hurts but it deprives you of that release. I will probably watch the first half again, though.
What did I learn from this movie? I don’t know. It’s very moving. But it was kind of hard to study for screenwriter’s craft because I was so swept up by the characters and the story. Maybe that’s the lesson? Grab your audience by the throat and don’t let them go. From the moment Lawrence played his little game with the matches I was hooked. If you’ve got a great character you can take your audience anywhere.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Abso-fucking-lutely. The word “epic” was created for this movie. This is a classic and everyone should set aside four hours to see it at least once. (That’s means you. Yes you.)
Favorite part(s)? I mentioned it above, but the closeness between Lawrence and Ali. That was beautiful. I also enjoyed all of Alec Guinness’ scenes as Prince Feisal. He had this great dryness about his character that I loved. And any of those beautiful shots of the desert. All of them, in fact.
Overall Rating: ***** (I loved it)
For tomorrow: Maybe Spartacus? I seem to be in an epic kind of mood.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled movie review to bring you…a movie review!
Namely of Iron Man 3 which I just saw less than 2 hours ago.
(I’m probably going to get a little spoiler-y so if you mind that sort of thing come back once you’ve seen the movie.)
*SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS*
*STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED!!! LIKE A ROTTEN EGG! SPOIL-ED! OR SPOIL’D (as Shakespeare would do)*
Here’s the trailer:
This movie is basically about stripping Tony bare, taking away his support (the suits, Pepper, Rhoddy, his fabulous house) and seeing what he’s really made of at the end of the day.
So, what did I think? Did it live up to the hype? Is it a worthy addition to the Marvel Film Canon?
Basically: yes and yes.
This is a very good film and they have most of the elements I think we want from Iron Man. There’s some good buddy-cop stuff between Tony and Rhoddy. (They were kind of frenemies in the 2nd one which didn’t really smooth the transition from the excellent Terrence Howard to the slightly miscast Don Cheadle)…(For what’s it worth, I think Cheadle did a really good job in this one and they do a good job of showing, yes, he is an active duty officer. He knows how to kick ass and shoot even without a fancy suit.)
Pepper gets to be feisty and competent and give back to Tony as good as he gets. Jarvis gets a slightly bigger part too, and I love me some Jarvis. There’s also chock a block of that wry humor we love so much. (There’s a great part when one of the henchman surrenders, “Don’t shoot! Seriously, I don’t even wanna work for them. They are so weird!” Hilarious.) And then, of course, there’s Tony being Tony. I think any fan of the Iron Man character will probably walk out of this film happy.
Also, for the feminists in the house, not only does Pepper not die (which I was a little worried about. How long is Gwyneth gonna wanna make these, y’know?) but Pepper gets some genuine kick ass moments of her own. Like, really kick ass. The moments are so kick ass I even forgive Shane Black for the part where he has her lying helpless for like fifteen fucking minutes waiting for Tony to dig her out from under rubble. (This is one of the screenwriting things: if someone, anyone, but especially if it’s your female lead, is trapped or held hostage or whatever you still have them doing something. Besides screaming. Screaming is not constructive. Even digging herself out or trying to would have been more constructive. But, like I said, that was a minor snafu in an otherwise excellent arc for a female character. /rant over.) But yes. GOOD Pepper stuff here. I hope the rest of the Marvel movies continue this trend of 1. Not killing off the female love interest. (All action movies don’t have to follow the James Bond example, you know.) and 2. Giving these lovely ladies some real, important, juicy, good stuff to do. Big round of applause for Pepper in this movie.
I also liked what they did with the Big Bad. Ben Kingsley was marvelous. Absolutely marvelous. As secondary villain, Guy Pierce is his usual smarmy, good-looking self. And I can’t say I minded the part where he was shirtless for the last half of the movie. (Yes, I’m shallow.)
So, what didn’t work? Well, at times this felt more like a Shane Black movie than a Marvel movie. For an Iron Man movie it felt like Tony didn’t get much suit time. Maybe this was them trying to give us more of the actors’ faces. Maybe they were trying to be different. I dunno. Oh, and WHY was this set at Christmas? Christmas is a crutch for you, Shane Black. You don’t need the holiday season to make a good movie. Let it GO, Shane. Don’t get me wrong, the action sequences were interesting and innovative and never really felt like action movie porn. But they also, about half the time, felt more like something from the Lethal Weapon series than a Marvel movie. I love Shane Black, don’t get me wrong, but there are enough tough/wry cop movies out there. When I go to Iron Man I want my f*cking Iron Man.
That said, they did find really interesting things to do with the suits, and there was a bit of musical chairs with them that I LOVED. (Pepper even gets some suit time.)
And now, the big blah: the kid. The freaking kid, man. WHY was he in the movie? What was that about? It didn’t really thread into the rest of the movie. It didn’t really fit with the rest of the theme. Was this a Jar Jar Binks thing? Did someone remind Shane Black it’s a “kid” movie and he decided he should have a kid? Really, the kid served no purpose and I was rolling my eyes through major portions of that whole sequence. Was Pepper pregnant in an earlier draft? Was this Tony working out his daddy issues? I just did not get it.
Also, I miss Coulson!!!
(It’s just not the same universe without you, Son of Coul!)
Overall, though, the movie worked and worked well. I loved the airplane sequence. I love the destruction of Stark Manor. I love that Tony actually does have to deal with emotional fallout from having fought off an alien invasion and fallen through a wormhole. I love Tony/Pepper. I actually liked Don Cheadle. This movie helps restore the Iron Man franchise back to its former glory.
Now, I tend to rate Marvel movies on a scale of Captain America (the worst) to Avengers (the best of the best). Where did this fall?
Not as good as Avengers or the original Iron Man, better than Iron Man 2, slightly below Thor in terms of my enjoyment (and that might just be because there was no Tom Hiddleston in this. Hiddleston can vastly improve ANY movie, I’ve found).
I’ll tell you this, though, I’ll definitely be in line for the next one.
Overall rating: **** (I really liked it)
Today I watched The General starring the fabulous Buster Keaton. #18 on the 2007 list. (It didn’t make the 1998 list, which is a crime!)
I’d never heard of this one myself before I sat down to watch it. I picked it mostly because it was short and streaming instantly on Netflix.
But now I’ve seen it, I’m really glad I did pick it.
The General is a silent film, something I’ve not watched too many of. I can probably count on one hand the number of silent films I’ve seen, in fact. (And now I think of it, at least one of those was The Jazz Singer which, despite being the first “talkie” still has the aesthetics AND the dialogue cards of a silent film. “Wait, so you mean when we have characters actually talking we don’t need to flash the dialogue on the screen afterwards…nah, wait a minute, that can’t be right!”)
Here is ye ol’ plot summary for The General, quoted from imdb: “When Union spies steal an engineer’s beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines.” Also, you know, his girlfriend’s on the train when they steal it. But that’s not an important plot point at all. Nope.
All in all, The General is a charming and very well-constructed movie . The plot does start with not one but TWO Big Misunderstanding which is not my favorite trope. (If your plot can be resolved by having two people talk to each other then it is not a real conflict, and you’re going to have people in the audience grinding their teeth. Namely me.) In this case, if the recruiting officer had told Johnnie why he wouldn’t enlist him, and if Johnnie had explained to his lady love’s family why he wouldn’t get in the recruiting line with them then we would have had no movie. And there are no good reasons why either character doesn’t take two seconds to do this, to talk. I cut the film a little slack because hey, this was 1926 and the dawn of the movies. But still–lazy storytelling. Step it up, Buster. Come on.
The pacing also got to me a bit. I did pause this movie to do other things. The first half didn’t hold my attention as well as say, The Avengers does. What can I say, I am of the quick-cut, MTV, multi-tasker generation.
But the ending, man, that was incredible it just streams by like, well, like a locomotive! ;P The chase scenes in this are as good as any modern action scenes I’ve seen. For real.
The humor in this is also wonderful. So many little moments that are fantastic. Like when he’s sitting on the locomotive wheel arm…thingy (that’s totally a legit technical term.) and the train starts to go. Or when he tricks the two little boys into leaving his girlfriend’s house by grabbing his hat then shutting the door on them. I think every physical comedian ever in movies has stolen from Buster Keaton.
And I can see why, the man is just fascinating to watch. He has this incredible face–all eyes and nose with this raw-boned vulnerability. (I have a pet theory that TV stars are attractive but MOVIE stars are interesting looking. A TV star tends to be almost obscenely good-looking, a movie star usually has something unusual or interesting about their face. F’r instance: compare Chris Pine with his HUGE eyes and BIG lips to Jensen Ackles with his perfectly proportioned face. Think about it…)
I was also impressed with how little dialogue you need to get the story across. In this film, we get so much from facial expressions, interactions, reactions. I could probably watch this without the dialogue cards and I doubt I’d miss much. I think that’s something I need to work on in my own script. Movies are a visual medium so I need to really hone the images. (I know, I know: Duh, Beth.) Keaton’s face is just marvelously expressive, I’d go so far as to say he’s as good as any actor today at facial expressions.
(Funny side note about the dialogue cards, at one point I skimmed my eyes across one, doing a lazy read and I thought I saw “the army now fucking you.” Blinking in shock, I reread it: “the army now facing you.” Ah, the unknown perils of silent movies!)
Another thing this movie does really well is set-ups and payoffs. People always talk about Back to the Future and how everything set up in that film “pays out”. That’s “writer speak” for (the classic example) if you show a gun on the mantelpiece in Act 1 then someone needs to fire it in Act 3; if your whole movie is about trains chasing each other back and forth across the country you better by God have a train wreck. (And The General has a fabulous one, let me tell you.)
This movie is just like BTTF, everything and I mean EVERYTHING pays off. It usually pays off two or three times, in fact. Which is something screenwriter Bill Martell talks about in his books: ideally, you want a payoff in the now and payoff later. In this film, there’s a bit with a water tower where the bad guys drive away and leave a water tower streaming. Buster drives his train underneath it after them and gets soaked. That’s the now payoff. Later, in the end, we have a reversal and Buster is the one who drives away and the bad guys are the ones who get soaked. Two payoffs for the price of one. And this film is full of that.
I’m really surprised how much I enjoyed this (that seems to be my running theme so far in this project. Note to self: be more open minded about movies). But I’m also shocked (though I probably shouldn’t be) how many lessons I can take away for modern cinema from this movie which is almost 90 years old.
What did I learn from this movie? What didn’t I learn? The visual stuff. The payoffs. The action scenes. I think any screenwriter would do well to study this film to look for tips.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Absolutely. Many films have since stolen from this movie because it did so much right. It’s got the perfect mix of a great lead, a clever story, great visuals, humor. It deserves it’s place on the Top 100.
Favorite part(s)? It’s all really, really funny so it’s hard to say. The water tower scene was the one time I laughed out loud. I enjoyed that the female lead took some initiative and laid a trap for the bad guys all on her own. The whole train chase at the end between Buster and the Union soldiers was sublime. I did love the final image with him passionately kissing the girl while he salutes every damn soldier in camp. Great way to end the film.
Overall Rating: **** (I really liked it)
For tomorrow: I haven’t decided yet. I do need to get some of my own writing done. I might skip a day if I can’t get everything done in time.
Day three of my ongoing project to watch all +100 movies on the AFI 100 Years 100 movies list, which lists the greatest American films of all time (or up to 2007 at any rate)….sorry this post is late. I do have a life. It’s not all movies and blogging and unspeakable glamor. ;P
So, The African Queen. IMDB page here. #17 on the 1998 list. #65 on the 2007 list. It’s interesting how only ten years can make such a big difference in the rankings.
Synopsis from IMDB: “In Africa during WW1, a gin-swilling riverboat owner/captain is persuaded by a strait-laced missionary to use his boat to attack an enemy warship.”
I might get some flack for this one. Liked it. Didn’t love it. (Although I do love that poster. I don’t remember Bogie EVER being that muscular. Was that a scene I missed? LOL.)
The African Queen is an odd film. It was, for its time, very ground-breaking I think. It’s a small film at heart and yet it is set in an epic context. What I mean is they had all of Africa to play with, WWI is gearing up, Germans, the Jungle, romance, adventure (see posture above). Yet much of the film is this very quiet character piece about two people stuck on a boat who fall in love.
I guess I was just expecting MORE. It’s SO understated, underplayed. The romance is very sweet but it feels rushed. It feels like the characters got together before the movie was even half over. (I just looked. They sleep together at 60 mins in. The movie is 105 mins. 57% through the movie the romance is basically resolved). And, you know, the moment they’re together solidly as a couple that pretty much kills half the tension.
I’m going to get all writerly for a minute here, bear with me…when you’re writing a story you want conflict on every page, conflict coming at your hero from every direction. External conflicts (in this case, the Nazis, the river, misfiring explosives, etc) but you also want internal conflict. In this case, that would be the will they or won’t they of the romance plot. In the romance genre, which this movie is I think, you want the resolution to both conflicts to come as close together as possible. They get together as a couple and then they defeat the Germans. Not, they get together as a couple and forty minutes later they blow the Germans up. Part of this might be old-fashioned story-telling. Nowadays, we’re all about pacing, pacing, pacing. But I can’t really grade this thing on a curve. I only have my modern frame of reference to judge and, for me, the pacing just didn’t work.
Another thing was that when I hear the word “classic” I think greatness on every level. Butch and Sundance had Redford and Newman giving the performances of their careers. I’m not sure there’s anything I’ve seen either of them in where I liked them more. That wasn’t the case for me with The African Queen. These were good performances but…meh, for me. Bogie was much more appealing in Casablanca. Hepburn didn’t have her usual sparkle.
Still, problems aside, I did like the film. It’s a good adventure yarn, and the romance has several achingly sweet moments.
What did I learn from this movie? At least for modern audiences, the resolution to the internal conflict can’t be too far in advance of the resolution to the external conflict. Also, on the positive side, you can get some really great moments by using contrasts. What I’m thinking of is the ending where they’re about to be hanged by the Germans and Bogie asks the German captain to marry them . A wedding at a hanging where the bride and groom are about to be dead. It was adorable and quirky and funny. A really great moment.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Not…really. Bogie and Hepburn have given better performances. I didn’t feel like they had really great chemistry together. The plot was a good yarn, though, and the ending was pretty killer. A good movie, for sure. But a classic? I don’t think so.
Favorite part? Oh, the wedding scene for sure. I also love the part where Rosie dumps all of his booze into the river. She does that with such great sass. She doesn’t sparkle much in this movie, but she practically twinkles in that scene.
Overall Rating: *** (I liked it)
For tomorrow: The General, starring Buster Keaton. A silent film. Won’t that be fun!
Day Two of my ongoing project to watch all +100 movies on the AFI 100 Years 100 movies list, which lists the greatest American films of all time (or up to 2007 at any rate).
Today we continue our adventure with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which placed #50 on the 1998 list and #73 on the 2007 list.
Here’s the film’s IMDB page if you want more info. Here’s the synopsis from imdb, too: “Two Western bank/train robbers flee to Bolivia when the law gets too close.” Man, these synopses are terse…I mean, that IS the gist of the plot, but there’s also a romantic subplot and the bromance. The humor. Basically, there’s a lot more to this movie than that synopsis might suggest.
I adore the screenwriter of this film, William Goldman (who also wrote The Princess Bride) so this has been sitting in my Netflix queue for awhile. I’ve avoided watching it, though, because of the ending. (Which was why I avoided Casablanca too…are we sensing a pattern?). I recently read Goldman’s Adventure in the Screen Trade memoir where he talks in depth about making this film. That book bumped the movie up higher in my queue because I was curious. One thing Goldman talks about is wanting to make a different Western, and a different film in general. From the very beginning Goldman’s intention was to show these two guys are different, special. Their friendship is something different too. Having now watched the film I think Goldman definitely succeeded in this.
The word that kept occurring to me during this film was “control.” What I mean by that is: this film is really well put together. There’s no fat, no extraneous stuff. All the scenes and moments that are there are there with intent. It all needs to be there, it all pays out by the end. I think this is also the sort of film that doesn’t get made anymore, truly. For instance, the scene where Newman and Ross take a ride on the bicycle? I think nowadays the studio would want that scene cut, they wouldn’t see the point or they’d try to play up a love triangle. And that scene’s one of the most iconic moments from American cinema and a fantastic, tender moment for the characters. The quiet moment between chaos. It really helps emphasize what an oasis Etta’s presence is for both men.
I really (and unsurprisingly) love the chemistry between Newman and Redford. Two grown men who bicker like an old married couple. Fabulous. I recently watched the Inside the Actors Studio episodes they each did (separately) and they both talked about how this film sparked a lifelong friendship between them. You can see the seeds of that in this film. Redford said he always need something “chemical” with a leading lady to really sell a romance onscreen. I think he obviously had something “chemical” with Newman, too.
Which isn’t to say the romance between Redford and Katharine Ross doesn’t get some great moments too. The scene where he makes her undress at gunpoint is one of the sexiest things I’ve seen in a long time. And that scene has no nudity at all, thank you very much. Less really is more and the most important aspect of a sex scene is the emotional one. This film is a whole exercise in that really: small, intimate moments and realizations are favored over huge shootouts and spectacle.
OK, so I talked about it at the beginning, how do I feel about the ending? Well, it’s the same thing as Casablanca. We’re told halfway through the film that they’re going to “die bloody.” They can only choose how. It would feel like a cheat to have them riding off safe into the sunset with Etta. It can’t happen. Not for these two. I think the way the film ends with a freeze frame on the two of them, guns drawn, fighting, together is perfect. We, like Etta, don’t have to watch them die. But we do get the closure. We know they die but we don’t have to see it. And, really, these two guys are so wry and sarcastic having to watch them do a real death scene would just be so bleak. Too bleak.
As a side note, I think Goldman in general likes the “unfinished”, an ending in motion. Take The Princess Bride: We don’t actually see them safe and sound. They’re on horses, riding away from danger. But will they make it? Humperdink’s not dead. Are they really safe? We don’t know. I think this is a pattern in his work.
Anyway, back to Butch and Sundance…
What did I learn from this movie? Less is more. Sometimes if you can really make the small, intimate moments pay out then you don’t need big bangs and shootouts. Make your characters stand out. Make them unique. Show the audience a dynamic they’ve seen before.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Yes. It has a unique point of view, compelling characters, great plot, adventure, excitement, romance. Killer dialogue. Newman and Redford, two of the most gorgeous men EVER and this is them when they were both in their prime…I’d be more shocked if it wasn’t classic. It really does have everything going for it.
Favorite moment from the film? One of those quiet moments I’ve been rhapsodizing about. Butch and Sundance have spent the last several days on the run from the Super Posse. They jump off a cliff to evade pursuit (the famous “Oh shit!!!!” fall they always show from this movie.) They finally make it back to the relativity safety of the town where Sundance’s lover, Etta, lives. Butch goes inside to read the paper, leaving Sundance and Etta alone…
Etta Place: They said you were dead.
Sundance Kid: Don’t make a big thing out of it.
[She starts past him, he grabs her arm and pulls her back.]
Sundance Kid: No, make a big thing of it.
[They hold each other.]
This bit’s good too:
[Butch just rode with Etta on his bicycle]
Sundance Kid: Hey, what are you doin’?
Butch Cassidy: Stealin’ your woman?
Sundance Kid: [pause] Take her.
Sundance Kid: Take her.
Butch Cassidy: Well, you’re a romantic bastard, I’ll give you that.
Really all the dialogue is pretty amazing. Goldman really is one talented son of a bitch.
Overall Rating: ***** (I loved it)
For tomorrow: The African Queen
As I announced yesterday, I’m going to watch all 100+ movies from the AFI 100 Years 100 movies list, which lists the greatest American films of all time (or up to 2007 at any rate).
Today we begin our adventure with Casablanca, which placed #2 on the 1998 list and #3 on the 2007 list.
Here’s the film’s IMDB page if you want more info. Here’s the synopsis from imdb, too: “Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate (Humphrey Bogart) meets a former lover (Ingrid Bergman), with unforeseen complications.”
Namely, the former lover is married to one of the leaders of the resistance movement against the Nazis in WWII. It feels a little silly to recap the plot for Casablanca for goodness’ sakes but, hey, what the hell. Maybe there’s someone on some corner of the internet who doesn’t know this movie.
I actually found my cultural familiarity with this film hurt my viewing experience at times. And how could it not? So many of the lines from this are iconic now. How can “Here’s looking at you, kid” resonate well in its proper context when it’s been parodied and copied and homaged to death? This happened for a lot of the moments in this film– this jarring dissonance where suddenly I would leave the newness of watching this movie for the first time and instead find myself hearing a line I’ve heard a million times before.
Still, that said, I can totally see why each of those moments have become iconic. The three-beat on “Here’s looking at you, kid” was just magnificent. I knew how this movie would end, I knew most of the plot and at least half the dialogue and it still got me in the gut when Rick chucks Ilsa under the chin and says that famous line one last time.
So, because of the cultural zeitgeist around this film were there any surprises left for me as a new viewer? Oh hell-to-the-yes. For one thing, I really enjoyed the relationship between Rick and Renault (Claude Rains). Theirs is probably one of the first bromances captured on film and just as interesting and complicated a relationship as the one between Rick and Ilsa. Rick and Renault certainly have more laughs together than Rick and Ilsa ever do. For instance, this moment, which was probably my favorite bit of dialogue from the whole movie:
Rick: And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.
Captain Renault: That is my *least* vulnerable spot.
Bros before hos, Bogie.
The other big surprise for me was actually Victor Lazslo (played by Paul Henreid), Isla’s husband. Victor is the metaphorical wrench thrown into our two lovers’ romance. I’d always been led to believe that the Victor character was boring, unromantic, the lesser choice compared to Bogart’s Rick.
Um, no. I call bullshit. I thought Victor was downright dreamy.
Granted I’m not a huge Bogie fan, but I feel like the film really goes to great lengths to show that Victor IS the better choice for Ilsa in the bigger sense. Which I think some viewers miss? Maybe. (Maybe I’ve just watched When Harry Met Sally too many times). But thank God Victor is so wonderful, otherwise we’d all be howling for blood at the end of the movie.
This ties into a lot of stuff I’ve been reading lately how the ending has to be right for the movie. This is why it rarely if ever works when studios tack a new, more “commercial” ending onto something. The truly great films are ones that build to only one possible ending and one ending alone. Great movies can’t end any other way and be satisfying. And this movie really does build toward Ilsa leaving Rick, again, for Victor. As I was watching I couldn’t imagine any scenario in which I would have been satisfied with Ilsa leaving Victor for Rick. And I’m a freaking romance writer! I’m ALL ABOUT the happy ending for star-crossed lovers. Yet this movie totally made me root against them. Well done, Casablanca. The ending was inevitable and perfect. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
All right, now let’s do a little round-up.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Most definitely. This movie really is brilliant. The characters, the drama, the atmosphere. Just the world-building of the city of Casablanca and Rick’s Cafe in particular. The sense of community was amazing. All the staff at Rick’s, it really felt like a family. And the city itself was wonderfully drawn. With just a few glimpses and quick scenes we get a great sense of the place. This movie really is pitch perfect. I’ve heard in the past that this movie is slow, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. There wasn’t a moment where I was bored or waiting for something exciting to happen. Casablanca really does deserve to be ranked with the best of the best in American cinema.
Favorite moment from the film? Hands down, the scene with “La Marseillaise.” I actually went back and re-watched just this one part. I still get goosebumps re-watching it. Basically, for those of you like me who have not seen this, a bunch of rowdy Germans are drunk and taunting the rest of the patrons in Rick’s bar by singing the German national anthem. Victor, like the rebel bad ass he is, storms down stairs and tells Rick’s band to play “La Marseillaise.” They do and, well…just watch.
Overall Rating: **** (I really liked it)
For tomorrow: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
As some of you may know my newest career ambition is to do screenplays (in addition to novels). One thing they tell aspiring screenwriters is to watch a fuckton of movies. Now, I’m already pretty well versed in my movie-lore. You should see my DVD collection…But I do have a few glaring gaps. For instance?
I’d never seen Casablanca before.
I know, I know. I have no excuses. I’d been told it was boring. I don’t really enjoy bittersweet endings. I’m not a huge Bogart fan…OK, maybe I do have some excuses. Anyway, I’d never seen the movie before. One day recently I was looking over this list of the AFI Top 100 American movies of all time, and I realized I’d only seen about half the movies there. And I hadn’t seen any of the top 5 movies of all time at all! And some movies I haven’t seen since I was little, too little to really get the nuances in these cinematic masterpieces.
Since Netflix makes it so easy to burn through movies nowadays, I thought it was time to rectify that. I am going to try to watch all 100+ movies on the list (they revised the list in 2007 and added 23 new films). So in the coming weeks I shall attempt to watch (and blog about) all 123 films on the AFI list. I’m aiming for a movie/blog a day. We’ll see if I make it. ;P
Tomorrow we start with Casablanca. Play along at home if you like.
UPDATED: I’ve copied the list below. I will bold movies and add the link as I complete them. Some of these I’ve already seen but for the purposes of this I will be re-watching everything with my screenwriter eye turned on. Movies will not be bolded until they have been re-watched and blogged about. Whee!!!
1. Citizen Kane
3. The Godfather
4. Gone with the Wind
6. The Wizard of Oz
7. The Graduate
8. On the Waterfront
9. Schindler’s List
10. Singin’ in the Rain
11. It’s a Wonderful Life
12. Sunset Blvd.
13. The Bridge on the River Kwai
14. Some Like It Hot
15. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
16. All About Eve
20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
21. The Grapes of Wrath
22. 2001: A Space Odyssey
23. The Maltese Falcon
24. Raging Bull
25. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
26. Dr. Strangelove
27. Bonnie and Clyde
28. Apocalypse Now
29. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
30. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
31. Annie Hall
32. The Godfather Part II
33. High Noon
34. To Kill a Mockingbird
35. It Happened One Night
36. Midnight Cowboy
38. Double Indemnity
39. Doctor Zhivago
40. North by Northwest
41. West Side Story
42. Rear Window
43. King Kong
44. The Birth of a Nation
45. A Streetcar Named Desire
46. A Clockwork Orange
47. Taxi Driver
49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
51. The Philadelphia Story
52. From Here to Eternity
54. All Quiet on the Western Front
55. The Sound of Music
57. The Third Man
59. Rebel Without a Cause
60. Raiders of the Lost Ark
64. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
65. The Silence of the Lambs
67. The Manchurian Candidate
68. An American in Paris
70. The French Connection
71. Forrest Gump
73. Wuthering Heights
74. The Gold Rush
75. Dances with Wolves
76. City Lights
77. American Graffiti
79. The Deer Hunter
80. The Wild Bunch
81. Modern Times
85. Duck Soup
86. Mutiny on the Bounty
88. Easy Rider
90. The Jazz Singer
91. My Fair Lady
92. A Place in the Sun
93. The Apartment
95. Pulp Fiction
96. The Searchers
97. Bringing Up Baby
99. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
100. Yankee Doodle Dandy
These are the replacements from the 2007 list:
50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
71. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
83. Titanic (1997)
89. The Sixth Sense (1999)
49. Intolerance (1916)
59. Nashville (1975)
61. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
63. Cabaret (1972)
67. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
72. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
75. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
77. All the President’s Men (1976)
81. Spartacus (1960)
82. Sunrise (1927)
85. A Night at the Opera (1935)
87. 12 Angry Men (1957)
90. Swing Time (1936)
91. Sophie’s Choice (1982)
95. The Last Picture Show (1971)
96. Do the Right Thing (1989)
97. Blade Runner (1982)
99. Toy Story (1995)