For a director, one of the most impossible tasks imaginable is trying to adapt Leo Tolstoy's titanic 1000+ page novel for the big screen, and to do it well is even more difficult. However, director Sergey Bondarchuk has succeeded in this near impossible task, as despite the obvious fact that no movie can be as great or complex as Tolstoy's novel, this 7 hour epic barely suffers from any such point.
I do not believe that comparing the quality of a movie to that of its novel is a very relevant point, as every film stands alone as just that, a film. But if one tries to remain faithful to the source material, there is a chance some things get hushed up which might result in certain scenes not quite fitting in anymore. Of course, significant part of the stories of Nikolai Rostov, Boris Drubetskoy & Denisov (Nikolai was kind of like a 4th main character in the novel) for example were left out of the film, yet this is made up for quite smoothly by really only focussing on the development of Andrei, Pierre & Natasha. Everything else might be barely developed, but it plays out in such a way as to develop our three main characters consistently. Thus, Bondarchuk has succeeded in narrowing down the plot to a 7 hour movie, and still maintains the essential continuity of character development in these three characters, and never does he really show that it is about the development of someone else.
Much lauded, the technical aspects of War & Peace are all superb. It is definitely one of the most visually astounding pictures ever made. It is also said to be one of the most expensive movies ever made, utilizing thousands of extra's and endless beautiful aristocratic art design. With the red army being called in to supply a lot of the roles of extra's, it is as if almost the entire Russian nation was involved into making this impossible titanic film. Battle sequences are just about unparalleled, especially during the battle of Borodino. The complex shots of thousands of extra's in sequence in marching scenes, the reflective helicopter aerial shots of death and destruction in the battlefield, the many steadicam shots watching the marching, changing distances and overviews effortlessly without editing. The many scenes of aristocratic society, the beautiful balls, costumes, cathedrals. There is also an incredible one-take shot of a ball sequence where the camera steadicams from the opening towards a certain door and back, ending perfectly symmetrical, that is just an epitome of the directorial smoothness this picture consists of. It is so exquisitely shot that nearly every frame is material for a beautiful painting, and it comes as no surprise that Kubrick was highly influenced by these visuals for his masterpiece Barry Lyndon.
The acting is also superb in this rendition of War & Peace, especially Lyudmila Saveleva as Natasha. She perfectly embodies the vivaciousness, innocence, happiness, artlessness & naivety of Tolstoy's character, as if she just walked out of the novel into the screen. Bondarchuk, casting himself as Pierre Bezukhov, also has this merit, as he perfectly displays the clumsy, idealistic, kind-hearted & absent minded nature of the Pierre in the novel. And to top it off, the strict and stoic demeanor of Vyacheslav Tikhonov as Andrei Bolkonsky also perfectly embodies Tolstoy's character spirit. Of course, accuracy to the novel in these terms is not required to create a superb movie, but when the movie is as faithful to the novel as this one, it would not make a lot of sense to have your characters utilize traits they should never have had. In any case, these characters feel just as alive as they are in Tolstoy's novel.
The dialogue, well adapted from the source material, is psychologically & philosophically superb, although of course a lot of those credits go to Tolstoy, but the narrative implementation of psychological happenings in the minds of our three main characters is a brilliant addition to add as much scope as possible to a film that already has a scale that is nearly unequaled. A lot of people complain that in Bondarchuk's next film Waterloo (1970) there was much scale and little scope, but this is not the case for War & Peace, as it is both substantial in terms of character, and gigantic in terms of scale. The score is also excellent, and often used effectively as a reflective measure near the end of battles, or beautifully during balls. It is varied, it is epic and it is beautiful at the same time.
It would be a hard task to distinguish what aspect of War & Peace isn't great, and due to its incredible complexity largely owed to a 7-hour runtime, there's very little movies that can possibly equal the pure raw incredible power of will that was needed to create such a giant production, not to mention the personal poignancy also evident in its main characters. Thus, despite the fact that this film is not widely known due to various reasons, there is little doubt as to its status of an all-time great among motion pictures.
If you're going to create propaganda.... at least make good propaganda. This has not happened in Ip Man 4, a ridiculous film of extraordinarily exaggerated racial caricatures & created by someone with a view on society and humanity that is devoid of all meaning and understanding.
Of course, it's always good fun to watch Donnie Yen's Ip Man beat up a lot of bad guys with his wing chun, and the first entry into these series is indeed a truly good film. However, and this is also the case in somewhat lesser proportions in Ip Man 2, the platform has now been made up as some sort of ridiculous race-war between asian & white people. This director doesn't seem to understand that the world consists of a little bit more than these ridiculous race disputes, as every white person at nearly every moment in this film has something negative to say about Chinese people. There are no real characters in this film, there are only races. People are defined by their race. A Chinese person is honorable and good, while a white person is evil and racist. This is no mere overexaggeration on my part, as there are pretty much no people in the entire film to prove the opposite. Everyone is what their race is programmed to be according to this director.
The Chinese girl is bullied by white people, the mother of the white girl immediately generalizes the asian group as a whole when the little brat whines about being beaten, the evil husband immediately tries to deport a couple of Chinese people for it based on the whims of a little girl (really convincing), the white gunnery sergeant bullies a Chinese recruit, the gunnery sergeant also calls other races inferior for no real clear reason. Oh wait, we had to be reminded he was really a racist. Oh yeah. My favorite has got to be the white girl summoning 6 of her boyfriends to beat up 1 Chinese girl, though. There's really no words to describe how ridiculous this is, except that of course the director already knew Ip Man would save the day and him beating up 6 guys is more fun than 1. Whichever way you slice it, the screenplay of this film is a mess, the acting, especially by the American actors, is cringeworthy, and the only redeeming factor of the whole thing are the fight scenes, which are still superb. But that's about it.
The gunnery sergeant is full of hatred for all things of the Chinese culture, he hates kung fu because it is not American and thinks that his race is superior. So he goes to teach these people a lesson with his karate. This is not a joke. Apparently nobody in this film knew that karate was not actually American. He's trying to prove the point of his country or his people's superiority in fighting style by using an oriental fighting style? This is the ludicrous nature this movie employs. One of my favorites also has to be the lead up before his final fight with Ip Man, where he is whining about how superior his country is. Why he would be doing that infront of his squad at such a moment not knowing Ip Man would be coming is somewhat of a mystery, but i guess the audience is so dumb they still needed to be told that the guy was a racist, right?
In reality, there are never a lot of problems between whites & asians, as both cultures are somewhat compatible in their tranquillity, and asians are generally respected in white countries. Where the director got the idea that every asian is oppressed and every white person bad, nobody knows. It's quite clear though that his favoritism of Chinese people is visible, and his disdain for whites. Essentially, that's all that Ip Man 4 is. It's, by every modern definition of the word, really a racist film. It creates absurd caricatures of white people that are not accurate in the least, and forces its way along with heavy handed social commentary, and very little sophistication or restraint.
Following Ip Man 2, the nationalist Chinese propaganda knows no bounds in Ip Man 4, although the characterization is even more ridiculous in this one. People are apparently biologically engineered to be the same in this little fantasy world, and individualism regardless of race is thrown out of the picture.
Elevated, by reputation, to heights it never reaches, but nonetheless an excellent picture
Despite what so called ''experts'' or critics might tell you, Citizen Kane is not really the greatest movie of all time, as it is many times referred as. It is not the flawless picture that so many people say it is. And it is quite obvious that people who disagree there are of the mind that somehow external over the years evolving influence negates everything (That is somewhat flawed) in the film itself.
Citizen Kane is definitely not the average 40s picture. It starts off without any opening credits, something quite unheard of in movies of that time, and instead just shows the movie's title in illuminating letters, after which one of course gets the iconic opening panning shot towards Xanadu. Despite all its merits, there are obvious flaws notable in the movie, namely during the first half, and especially during the expository introduction sequence of Kane's character. This slideshow with a horribly wooden voice telling us of Kane's past life is like a spoon with irrelevant information maliciously and tediously being put into the audience's mouth. Not to mention the fact that nobody could have actually heard Kane say ''Rosebud'' as there was nobody in the room when he said it.
Furthermore, modern day scenes in which a more or less faceless reporter tries to uncover the meaning behind those words, which were Kane's dying words, are simply devoid of all interest. Director Orson Welles decided to film the shots of the reporter mostly in the shade, and their faces are rarely visible, and when the reporter is speaking to a person of Kane's past, the camera is only fixed on the latter. Admittedly, this is not such a significant flaw, as Citizen Kane's real strengths come from the flashbacks, told quite brilliantly in non linear fashion (Though at some points a character has one of these memories that those characters couldn't possibly have, due to them not being there, but that's kind of a nitpicking flaw). Welles wants to somewhat dehumanize the reporting angle by the obvious lack of lighting, and seems to want to focus solely on Kane.
Of course, technically speaking, Citizen Kane is a piece of brilliance. It utilizes incredibly lighting in particular, and has a sort of direction that was also quite unheard of during this time (The close up of Kane's mother standing at the window and panning backwards to change to a mid-shot in a single frame, for example). It is easy to spot the influence of a lot of later works in these kind of techniques, evident also in camera positioning & blocking (The many shots of a character in the foreground, middle & background, creating the most dynamic of pictures & frames, adapted famously later on by Kurosawa as a trademark ). And there is thus little doubt of Citizen Kane's status as a piece of technical brilliance.
The acting by Orson Welles is superb, and he pretty much outshines all opposition with ease in this picture. Of course, it also helps that Kane is the only real in-depth character of the bunch, as every other character is only there to enhance Kane's state of mind. It is fascinating to watch this flawed person descend into despair due to his inability to love anything other than himself, and his character arc is indeed quite superb, as is the aging process (Keep in mind, Welles who plays Kane was only 26 in this picture) that occurs during the many years that pass by. One could say it is a slight flaw that none of the other characters really have their own goals or their own inner conflicts like Kane, but as they contribute significantly to Kane's character arc, this in comparison seems like a minor issue.
The non linear storytelling, as stated before, is superbly written in, although the things only really get under way when Welles is onscreen. It is structured like the perfect mystery in this sense, as the audience slowly get to the truth behind the final utterances of Kane, that truth which will hold the key to the cause of the conflict within Kane.
Though it makes use of a horribly obligatory wooden newsreel exposition opening, and though it is not without its logical flaws, Welles chews up the scenery, and the technicalities speak for themselves. It is not as great as it is many times hailed as, this status being purely the result of its everlasting influence, but it is still as a stand alone film a superb picture, a picture of man at his most imperfect form, destroying one's self from within.
Parasite, directed by Joon-Ho Bong, director of the excellent character study 'Memories of Murder' received an about 8 minutes long standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. It also seems to be widely known now as a 'masterpiece', a term that flows easily these days. However, the truth is that it is simply a mediocrity, and the only reason this acclaim is received seems to be for the fact that it appeals to Marxist nut jobs because it deems poor people to be superior to rich people.
Now, Bong doesn't depict our four protagonists as angels. On the contrary, they are scheming, immoral, disgusting, conniving, backstabbing low lifes, but the salient issue here is the fact that, especially in the later phases of the film, Bong wants the audience to feel pity for these four morons. Of course, our poor 'heroes' manage to scheme into a rich household in an extremely absurd & easy matter, made even easier by the gullible nature of the rich. Herein lies another problem. Standard human behavior is altered in order to fit Bong's sociological narrative, meaning that the rich man & woman are indeed too stupid to figure out anything, whereas a bunch of lazy criminal nut jobs who can't even fold a pizza box properly are genius in their scheming. It makes no logical sense, and suspension of disbelief can be a good thing, but not when it is made for a ham fisted social message. That's simply a lack of creativity in writing.
There's also of course the far fetched plot points.. such as the secret door behind the bookcase. That nobody in the house has figured that out in four years is really something that stretches beyond suspension of disbelief, and the fact that someone was down there all the time is even dumber, not to mention the revelation near the end when the dad takes the guys's place. They're not exactly plot holes, but they are illogicalities that are another result of the very poor screenplay.
In the technical aspects, Parasite doesn't disappoint as much, as the photography is adequate, coupled with an excellent score & generally good cinematography. Thus, it is alright to look at, but it is impossible to overlook the glaring holes in the substantial aspects. The acting is good for the most part, especially by the rich wife, who was however a completely idiotic and unbelievable hysterical character, further decreasing the subtleties between the depiction of the classes.
In the end, Parasite was created as a depiction of class struggle, and while it does show the poor people as wicked creatures, Bong nonetheless deems it necessary with his narrative that we as an audience should care for them, even though they deserve every single evil they can get. We, as the audience, are supposed to judge based on class distinction which people are good and which people are bad, as opposed to something like character development, which generally is the more important thing.
The penultimate epic, one of the all-time greats, rich in both scale & scope
The general problem that a lot of epics have is that behind all their technical expertise and spectacular scenery, the human drama sometimes gets lost under the visuals. This is not the case for Ben-Hur, one of the most splendid of all epics and long productions, as it succeeds on both of these points.
One thing one could always expect in an epic such as this is indeed the grand visual splendor, and not only does Ben-Hur deliver in that regard, it outperforms most of the similar themed movies such as Quo Vadis or King of Kings most splendidly. It is longer, greater, and the sets are simply even more beautiful. A couple of objects in certain sets are drawn in artificially, but it nevertheless looks absolutely gorgeous. In particular the set for the chariot race boggles the mind. Not even keeping in mind how filming such gargantuan sets was even possible in 1959, it's even more so impressive today in an era of plastic made scenery. The production is simply bigger in scale & generally more beautiful than nearly every single picture that has ever been made ( It's in the top 10, at least ).
The costume design is beautiful, the cinematography impeccable, and the widescreen shots of hundreds of people marching across the screen in David Lean fashion is also a sight to behold. The sound is generally outstanding, except for a couple of obvious post-production additions, which sounds a bit off, but that really is something of minor significance in the grand scheme of things. Of course, Ben-Hur also features quite possibly the greatest action sequence of all-time, the chariot race. As stated before, the production for this sequence is already beyond comprehension, but to add such a superbly edited and performed action sequence to it really is quite remarkable. There was this particular stunt in which a stuntman drives over a crashes chariot, being launched into the air before just gripping on, which could have easily resulted in death. It's an impeccable action sequence for both this extraordinarily committed stuntwork & the tight editing.
One also cannot forget Miklos Rozsa's incredible contribution to this picture by providing one of cinema's greatest scores. Nearly a symphony of epic proportions, it creates some of the greatest tearjerking moments in cinema. Of course, this is also partly due to the film itself, but themes like the love theme or the Star of Bethlehem are nearly unparalleled in cinema, truly creating that feeling of literal magic on the screen, coupled with excellent action oriented themes such as Parade of the Charioteers & Rowing of the Galley Slaves. The score is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally superb scores of all-time.
Even though few to no epics score as good in this regard as Ben-Hur, most are still very solid in the aspects named above. But what truly makes Ben-Hur stand out from most of them is the essential core upon which it drives; its genuine human drama. This is not just a spectacle of sound & visuals, it is also the very human story of the gradual redemption of our main character, Judah. The subplots of Jesus Christ aren't just added for the sake of it, but it signifies his final deliverance from the hatred tearing his heart apart. Jesus is symbolized as a reminder against despair, as is so beautifully shown in the scene where he gives Judah water, which is essentially what keeps him alive not only physically, but mentally as well. It renews his will to live. It is heartbreaking to see the injustice done to Judah and his family, and watch him struggle with this loss internally for the rest of the entire movie, yet in the end he finds his redemption and is rewarded for it.
Charlton Heston is the perfect actor for the role of such a biblical epic, as he has proven before in the Ten Commandments, and his nemesis Stephen Boyd as the evil Messala is perhaps even more impressive. His death scene is definitely one of the greatest death scenes in all of cinema. How you could so greatly display such pain and agony and incoming death in an acting performance is quite extraordinary. Their friendship and betrayal seems to affect the heart even more so due to these excellent performances, especially the argument in Judah's house being a superbly acted scene. Esther, played by Haya Harareet, an Israëli actress, is also splendidly affectionate as the true driving power behind the redemption of Judah's soul, even though her odd accent sometimes distracts a litte bit.
Ben Hur is thus grandiose in both scale and scope, internally and externally, visually and substantially, in nearly every aspect of its being. It is beautiful to look at, heartbreaking to witness and especially fulfilling to both the mind and heart of the audience. There's little doubt of its status among cinema's all-time greats.
As a kind of cliché'd dumb horror creature monster flick, one doesn't really expect anything on the level of the Godfather or the like, but nonetheless one can be pleasantly surprised by the level of atmospheric direction in The Monster, although most of that is undone by a horribly inept script.
The entire movie takes place on the same strip of road for the entire runtime, added with multiple flashbacks which are supposed to give depth to the mother and daughter character. Admittedly, they are flawed people, and do find some sort of redemption towards the end, so the character development (or lack thereof) is not necessarily a weakness. However, these flashback scenes where the mother most times lashes out at the daughter are implemented in the heightened scenes of tension during the ''monster'' scenes, and they flow incongruously, as it only seems to interrupt things. There's even an edit to a flashback right when we see the monster behind the little girl, after which she somehow appears just fine back at their car.
Now, atmospherically, the film is quite superb. In the scenes on the road, that is. There's constant rain to display the dreariness of the situation and the lighting and cinematography, despite being unnaturally bright for such a spot, create constant tension. This is also coupled with a lot of shots into the dark forest on the sides, or from the Monster's PoV lurking there in the shadows. It slowly and methodically creates this tension by superb direction, and the monster is shown as little as possible, which i might add, is also created by practical effects, and no CGI whatsoever.
Thus, as an atmospheric tension screamer, it succeeds, but unfortunately The Monster is still a dumb monster horror flick. No matter how well technically it is made, we still have these characters constantly making terrible & profoundly stupid decisions & deductions. The wolf they hit in the middle of the road disappears, and the mother immediately dismisses this as nothing. Maybe the wolf got up and left... even though it really was quite dead. Not to mention the gigantic tooth they find in its gutted belly. Now, i understand suspicions aren't on a monster culprit immediately, but she must have at least suspected something far bigger and more dangerous than a wolf was lurking somewhere.
There's also the fact that the monster seems to be invisible most of the time, literally snatching some guy from right under the mother & daughter's car, without them noticing it. The monster is too big to fit under it, and the guy was under the front hood, so the monster had to also be to the front of the car to snatch him. Somehow, both the mother & the daughter ( and the audience... )never noticed this. The same could be said for the disappearance of the wolf's corpse. There's just no way they would not have noticed such a hulking monster dragging it away.
By far the dumbest moments, however, appear towards the end. An ambulance arrives, and of course despite the mother's significant wound & her alarming distressed voice telling them to leave straight away, the two ambulance personnel linger and get killed. The mother and daughter somehow manage to drive away in the ambulance, but even though the monster was miles behind feasting on one of the personnel, it somehow appears next to the vehicle and dunks it off the road. It is there figured the monster is weak to light, so the mother has the brilliant idea of sacrificing herself by lighting a torch and going into the woods while her daughter makes a run for it. Not only that, but she even douses the fire on purpose when she goes far enough. Nobody here had the idea that maybe both of them should stick together, grab the torch and walk towards the cable guy's truck, which couldn't be far behind. The monster would be powerless against the light. But no, split up, douse the light. If only some of these people had any brains, maybe they would all still be alive. The daughter then winds up her loud toy to lure the monster, and ignites it with a hand made flamethrower, because she knows exactly how to do that. It's also remarkable that the monster didn't go in the crashed ambulance before she threw the toy, but i thought this was due to the light, but it didn't seem to bother the monster by the end when it went for it. So, of course, she survives, and yet all of those other deaths could have easily been avoided.
Atmosphere oozes, the direction excellent, but the Monster is generally another dumb horror flick, terribly written & horribly incompetent on most parts.
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is, apart from being quite terrible, a movie of two halves. The first 40(!) minutes consists of the first movie being told through a flashback by Ricky, the younger brother of the santa killer Billy of the first film. There are some obligatory interrogation scenes cut in between this overlong amount of footage from the first film, but they are simply telling the audience what they already knew during the first film. Thus, the first 40 minutes is nearly completely a rehashing of the original, with sharper editing to shorten it down a little bit. Rarely will you ever see such a weird and lazy writing process in a motion picture, but this movie has done it. This movie is actually only around 50 minutes long.
I'm almost at a loss of words to mention all the holes and flaws in this piece of utter lunacy, but one can try. The right place to start has to be Eric Freeman. This is undoubtedly the worst portrayal of a psychopathic serial killer in cinema history, and a contender for one of the worst acted roles in cinema history. He is very unintentionally funny though, and you will never not be amused by his unbelievable performance. Freeman is the kind of actor that seems to think being a psychopath means moving your eyebrows up and down 130 times, all the while spouting line deliveries as if you were trying to act tough to your most hated high school bully. Oh, and let's not forget... the obligatory psychopathic laughter. Especially during a certain scene with the police aiming down at him, his conversion into laughter does not seem... shall we say... very natural. Of course, we also cannot forget that immortal one liner 'Garbage day!!!', in which Freeman shortly and perfectly displays his acting skills, with the eyebrows moving up and down, spouting nonsensical dialogue & following this up with obligatory laughter.
Of course, most of what Ricky tells the doctor in the interrogation scenes cannot be known to him, because only Billy could know certain details, and he was not given the opportunity to tell these activities to Ricky in the first movie. But perhaps there is some deep psychological meaning there, as Ricky later sees the first movie playing in the cinema. ( Yes, he literally sees the first movie there... events which are supposed to have really taken place in this cinematic world ) But perhaps the world displayed here is a multi dimensional paradoxical universe, who am i to judge? Ricky's attitude towards the Doctor also doesn't seem like he wants to tell him much of a story, but during the extended flashback run of the first movie, it seems like he is all too eager to tell these things that he could not possibly know, which is, apart from a plot hole, also a significant character error.
Every man also seems to be a rapist in these Silent Night, Deadly Night films, as can be seen by an apparent boyfriend becoming violent towards his girlfriend. In this particular scene, Ricky is supposed to be around 14 years of age, so he is played by another actor. Unfortunately, the actor that plays Ricky looks and is older than Eric Freeman, and looks absolutely nothing like him, which once again shows us the hilariousness of how terrible this casting is. Even though Ricky was barely born during the tragic events of the first film that haunted his brother, he suffers from PTSD kind of flashbacks of this event, even though at that age there is no way he could be troubled by it so severely, so he feels compelled to run over the boyfriend in once again an utterly hilarious scene.
Of course, there was also the obligatory love interest written in. Ricky claims that she's the only thing he ever cared about, yet he strangles her with a car antenna after barely knowing her. This sequence, by the way, also deserves a shout out for the actress's reaction to realizing that Ricky is going to strangle her. She gulps, says 'uh-oh' extremely comically, and proceeds to get strangled. All of this is obviously a very natural reaction to realizing you're going to die.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is a terrible film, and one of the contenders for the worst movie ever made. It is full of holes, character errors, terrible line deliveries, implausibilities and ridiculous extended rehashes, but it is also one of the funniest of terrible movies you will ever see. Especially Eric Freeman is to thank for that. His performance needs to be seen to be believed, and is really an exceptional study on how NOT to play a psychopath.
Whereas some films disregard immediate reality and seek to convey a certain message in its sub text, The Godfather is the kind of motion picture that seeks to bring forth reality exactly how it was, and does this by creating a kind of family bonding that is as near perfectly structured as it can be.
Of course, The Godfather still utilizes cinematic moments, and has one of the greatest character arcs in cinema ( Michael's ). The film starts with a wedding sequence of half an hour, all in which we are introduced into the world of the characters, and their respective business. We see Don Vito Corleone ( Marlon Brando ) calmly doubting the sincerity of an undertaker's request, we see Santino Corleone ( James Caan ) breaking a camera of a journalist, we see Michael Corleone ( Al Pacino ) being the one soul that seems to be absent from most of the family at that part, telling us the story of the characters and personalities wonderfully. Due to this extended opening sequence, we also get a feel for the brotherhood and warmth that the mob can also possess. It is, of course, a sad cover for what is to come afterwards, as The Godfather is also somewhat of a study on the self destructive nature of man, as nearly every character in the end pays for price for immorality.
The Godfather is one of the best acted films of all-time. Most of this is of course because of Marlon Brando, who is deliberately made up like a 'bulldog' to fit his personality. The mannerisms & voice are somehow exactly what one would think when thinking of the founder of a gigantic mob empire. There is not really a weak spot in the acting throughout the entire picture, but other standouts are James Caan & Robert Duvall. Of course Al Pacino also set himself on the map with this performance as the good hearted war hero transforms into the stoic and calculated don of the family. As stated before, the film is near perfectly structured, with events always coinciding with character ( Take the final scene of Michael in Italy for example, with his wife getting killed in the car bomb. This scene is only there to further disconnect Michael emotionally between his work and his life, further sending him down the dark path to becoming the Don ), being the result of one of the greatest screenplays of all-time.
The Godfather features cinematography befitting its subject, as a lot of shots are very scarcely lit. In particular the scenes indoors where the mob business is being discussed, the darkness makes sure that only the faces and the white parts of the outfit are shown, as they are mostly wearing black during these scenes. This was to emphasize how 'shady' the dealings of the mob were, and this darkness enhances this feeling in the audience.
The original score by Nino Rota is also one worthy of mention, as it perfectly encapsulates what this movie is about; friendship, family, beauty & tragedy. Being an Italian composer who has previously composed other (Italian) masterpieces such as The Leopard (1963) & Rocco and his Brothers (1960), he also manages to give the Godfather this italian atmosphere, further enhancing the immersion into the roots of this family.
In the end, The Godfather is mainly about Michael's slow ascent to the top of the ladder in the family. He doesn't want to have anything to do with the business of the family at first, but he feels compelled to act when assassins try to assassinate his father, feeling that he is the only one who can get close enough to his enemies to eliminate them, and after he has done so, the events he witnesses in italy cause him to develop an even more emotionally disconnected personality that makes him feel compelled to take his family's throne. By the end, there is a sequence which contrasts the baptism of Michael's new nephew with the simultaneous murder of all of his competition ( Other mob bosses ), in a stunning sequence of moral duality. While Bach's satanic score plays, and enhances in sound significantly when Michael is asked if he renounces Satan. One of the masterful scenes in a masterful film, it perfectly shows us his final personal descent into immorality & emotional disconnection.
The Godfather is an epic family ballad of themes and tragedies, while also being exceptionally well made. It features some of the best acting & writing of all-time, superbly darkly lit sets to enhance atmosphere and a fantastic original score while being near perfectly structured. All of which cements this as one of the world's greats of mob & rise to power movies.
Sergio Leone's first truly great film, a Fistful of Dollars, marks the start of his ascend into the levels of the all-time greats in terms of directors, and he has definitely shown what he was capable of and would be capable of in later years with this excellent picture.
Of course, A Fistful of Dollars is a near literal adaptation of Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961), and therefore the narrative structure and story does not tell us anything we do not already know. The story is in this sense quite weak, and gives us little of the artistic mind of Leone himself. However, the fascinating aspect of A Fistful of Dollars is how Leone films every single scene and every single situation. The combination between majestic widescreens and immersive close-ups of the sweaty faces to enhance intensity is a clear trademark of Leone, and his hand is unmistakable. The english dubbing was also in an experimental stage at this point, so that too sounds slightly off compared to Leone's later works.
However, it becomes most apparent that A Fistful of Dollars's strength lies in the moments without dialogue. The hostage exchange or the lead up to the final gunfight are filmed mostly with close ups while Ennio Morricone's majestic score plays creating that typical trademark Leone magic into setting up for an important plot point. Due to the low budget available, some of the gunfights feature no bullet holes and/or blood, and blood that is shown looks more orangey instead of red, but again, Leone's direction shines through limited budgets and unoriginal storytelling.
So, not only was A Fistful of Dollars the breakthrough for Leone, it was also the breakthrough of composer Morricone & actor Clint Eastwood, both of whom reached stardom in the years to come. Leone's direction was already extraordinary with this early picture, and the same is true for Morricone's score, blazing an epic trumpet and unconventional whistling throughout the picture, showing us his unique method of scoring films for the first time. No full scale orchestral scores like previous Hollywood westerns, but a somewhat singular sound lead by this operatic trumpet. Clint Eastwood also shines with his natural machismo screen presence, and forever made his mark on cinema in the scene in which he kills 4 adversaries for not apologizing to his mule.
It was also quite unnatural for a western to sport a morally complex anti hero as a main character, instead of the black-and-white moralities many old westerns have given us. While the latter is not necessarily a bad thing, moral complexity does often times seem to create a more interesting and relatable protagonist, because pure goodness is often times too a fantasy in the real world. Pragmatists such as Eastwood's character Joe exist abundantly in the real world, and with the single line of dialogue after helping the family escape 'Because i knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help', he seemingly explains his abandonment of idealism in a single sentence, as this past event has possibly made him into the person he is today. Of course, there is still some character development in it, since when he saves the family, he abandons his pragmatic ways for a selfless deed, showing his partly good nature.
A Fistful of Dollars is admittedly somewhat flawed, since it features weak dubbing & it has a story which except for some details is only a literal copy of a still slightly superior earlier film. However, Leone's hand is unmistakable, and his direction was already world quality in this early film, showing us his quality by mixing stunning widescreens with intimate close ups, while also containing many scenes of beautifully lit nighttime cinematography & pure visceral thrills with Morricone's score blazing through important moments, making sure that A Fistful of Dollars is still a masterful movie worthy of recognition.
A mediocre piece of propaganda for cultural relativism
Ridley Scott has in the past directed masterpieces such as Gladiator, Blade Runner & Alien, but it seems that nearly everyone in the end falls victim to the leftist Hollyweird curse that seems to be going on around there, and he has decided to create a film not as something of artistic merit or entertainment value, but as a highly subjective propaganda piece depicting his corrupted ideals.
Admittedly, Kingdom of Heaven is still beautifully photographed, and features superb cinematography ( With the exception of a couple of easy to notice greenscreens, and a lot of badly saturated sequences during the catapult attack in the battle of Hattin ). The production design is also very good, and at least it seems as though visually Scott's quality has not diminished in this film.
So, technically Kingdom of Heaven is not a bad film, but in terms of substance, the audience is left wanting. Orlando Bloom's Balian is a Mary Sue, a seemingly perfect moral character with no obvious flaws. Of course, he does kill a priest at the start ( Who apparently was his own brother aswell ) in an absolutely laughable sequence, giving him the obligatory 'absolve my sins' character arc that has become such a cliché. Apart from this sequence, he is a complete Mary Sue, resulting in a completely uninteresting, superficial character. ( The priest didn't matter anyway... since Christian priests are EVIL! )We do not care about Balian's plight, because he is a cartoonish nonsense character as to what Scott considers to be 'a good Christian'. Of course, Orlando Bloom also plays him with absolutely zero emotional intensity. He is a wooden plank, and should stick to smaller supporting roles such as in The Lord of the Rings, because this man cannot lead a movie. His supposedly poignant scenes with King Baldwin are a joke because of him, and his 'romance' ( If you can even call it that ) with Eva Green's character has absolutely no charisma whatsoever.
Of course, the only real bad guys in this picture are Templars high in fanaticism or ignorant Christian xenophobic priests. The only 'good Christians' are the ones that are struggling with their religion, putting the 'people' before everything else, even their religion. The Muslims are depicted as victims, and their siege near the end is being justified by Scott by showing us these atrocities the Templars have committed, such as destroying a convoy of unarmed civilians. As everyone with half a brain knows, this is pure fantasy. Historical accuracy is being sacrificed for a ham-fisted social message that is not only naive, but extremely dangerous. ( At the end of the real battle of Hattin, many Christians were sold into slavery by Muslim leader Saladdin, but this little detail is of course left out ) It is obvious that this is all influenced by modern day events where the left villainizes patriots concerned about their own country, and i think ( Because of the title card near the end stating that Jerusalem still has this dispute 1000 years later ) that the film is not just an assault on Christianity, but also on Jews to be more 'open-minded'. The Templars are also complete morons, as there is a scene in which a small Templar force attack an entire Muslim army. Of course, on the contrary, the Muslims are depicted as intelligent & sophisticated. It really becomes an utter joke of cultural relativism ( The principle that all cultures are equal, and compatible with eachother, which history has already deemed to be false at every turn ).
Apart from the obvious moral self exaltation, we are also subjected to a final hour which seems like a literal ripoff from The Lord of the Rings, as some shots are nearly indistinguishable from Jackson's masterpiece. However, since we have a main character not worthy of relatability since he is horribly acted and written as a modern day Mary Sue, there is no emotional connection to this sequence at all, leaving it dead and lifeless. Of course, visually and technically there is nothing wrong with it, but Kingdom of Heaven is indeed one of those pictures to which you can apply the term 'Style without substance'. Scott has also admitted himself that the whole point of this movie was to show that 'Not everyone in the West is good, and not every Muslim is bad', showing us his total lack of focus on cinematic quality, while instead focusing more on creating a heavy handed social message. There is even a scene in which Saladdin picks up a crucifix, and puts it on the table as a sign of respect for their religion ( Subtle, Scott.... real subtle... ). Again it's kind of a young boy's fantasy in how Scott sees this world.
Kingdom of Heaven is a visually and technically excellent film, but does not have any substance whatsoever. The entire plot is driven by leftist subjective social messages that will not impress nor fool the intelligent viewer, while creating such a naive muddled morality in the character of Balian that it really only becomes a laughing stock piece of propaganda.
Gigantic in scale, rich in substance & also one of the most emotionally draining movies ever made
Gladiator is not just director Ridley Scott's ultimate masterpiece ( And i am also keeping the fantastic Alien & Blade Runner in mind when i say this ), it is also undoubtedly one of the most viscerally effective and emotionally compelling of motion pictures ever made.
It plays somewhat like a modern Ben-Hur, as a very respectable character is forced into slavery due to him standing up for what is right. Of course, being a much more modern epic, the editing is a lot quicker, as is the entire pace of the picture. However,with 171 minutes playtime in the extended edition, Scott doesn't haste through this picture, and takes his time to set up his characters & their respective arcs. Gladiator is however not a flawless film, as several action sequences ( Particularly in the introduction in the battle of Germania ) feature quite a lot of shaky cam and quick editing, but admittedly this is nowhere near as bad as something like Taken or The Bourne Trilogy. Most of the action sequences are superbly edited, with widescreen shots to create an overview, combined with mediums to immerse the viewer into the action. A couple of times there is a shakycam shot in the middle of this, but it's a very minor issue. Another minor fault is in some of the backdrops. The 'Am i not merciful' scene features an obvious greenscreen, saturated a bit too brightly, and Proximo is obviously not physically there near the end of the film ( When actor Oliver Reed had already died ). Again these minor issues feature only in 1 scene respectively, and therefore do not really do anything to truly diminish the cinematic power that Gladiator provides.
On the whole, the cinematography & art direction of Gladiator is impeccable. It is not the best, since as stated before there are a couple of lesser backdrops easily recognizable as greenscreens, but for most of the picture the viewer is subjected to beautiful angles, backdrops & sets. The scenes in Zuccabar are an example of the seductive natural beauty Gladiator provides, and Maximus's ride to his family after his execution attempt also feature some stunning environmental shots. Sets are elegantly crafted and varied in a beautiful color palette, becoming most apparent in Commodus's & Lucilla's scenes. The titanic image of the Colosseum is also one that is difficult to get rid of, despite the fact that i believe it was filmed in full CGI, but apart from perhaps the absolute final shot ( Burying the sculptures ), that is hardly noticable.
The art of acting is utilized at its finest in Gladiator, with three absolute superb performances by leads Russel Crowe as Maximus, Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus & Connie Nielsen as Lucilla. Not to mention the fantastic supporting performances of legendary actor Richard Harris & Oliver Reed. Crowe is the epitome of a brick of stoic masculinity, yet he gave an utterly convincing and extended sob fest when gazing upon the sight of his crucified family, showing us his versatility as an actor. We see him win a battle against Germanians through his discipline, intelligence and courage, and we are rooting for his character from this moment forth. He is in his heart a simple man that just wants to go home to his family, but he is also honor bound to Rome, and proves this through his courageous actions. Not interested by the corruptions of power, he lives only to see justice done. Phoenix is superb as the corrupted emperor, showing us his envy of Maximus simply with one look into the eyes ( Look at Phoenix's superb facial acting in the scene where Maximus reveals himself to him in the arena ), his arrogance & his brutality. Nielsen is also quite underrated, as her disguised fear during every scene with her brother after their father's death is a stunning feat of acting within acting, culminating with her utter terror at the end when Commodus demands a 'pure blood' heir with her.
Of course one cannot forget Hans Zimmer's fantastic contribution to his masterpiece, creating arguably his finest score to date, with this especially being the case during the transition between the (Again) 'Am i not merciful' scene and the shots of the arena. Obviously 'Now we are free' is also one of the most emotionally powerful scores ever created. It is also one of Zimmer's most varied scores, as a slight criticism of him is often his repeated melodies ( Admittedly, a lot of the themes in Gladiator still sound similar to The Rock, but a lot of them also do not ). In any case, it is rare to imagine the brilliance and emotional resonance of Gladiator without Zimmer's score.
While the narrative is fairly straightforward as a revenge story, the dialogue written is superb, with many incredible lines such as 'What we do in life, echoes in eternity', not to mention the slow character development and character arcs, even within seemingly minor characters like Proximo & Quintus ( You will need to see the extended edition to witness Quintus's arc ) who have their original ideals challenged and overcome throughout the events in the film. Even though Maximus's sole purpose in life has become to kill Commodus in revenge for his family, it is in a way a very hopeful film. A film about standing up for what is right, and being granted redemption and a reunion with loved ones in the end. Maximus does not want to rule Rome, but in slaying Commodus, he secures the feature of it for is people, while also acquiring his personal goal. He demands respect for his valor and his morals throughout the film, and this makes sure that we as an audience are emotionally drained by the time he enters the Elysium fields, and is hailed as a hero by the people of Rome, and a hero he was.
One of the all-time greats of epic motion pictures, Gladiator features impeccable acting, writing ,cinematography, art direction & a phenomenal original score. It also features possibly the most relatable main character ever written, which is partly why there are very little films that can equal the emotional power that Gladiator creates.
What becomes most apparent during the watching of 'Andrei Rublev', is that director Andrei Tarkovsky seems to be in love with himself. Rarely have i seen such pretentiousness and pseudo intellectuality in a major motion picture, but Andrei Rublev is definitely up there as one of the highest in that regard.
As usual in a Tarkovsky film, there is no conventional narrative in Andrei Rublev, thus making sure it is not personally accessible in any way. The film starts with a guy escaping in a hot air balloon while being chased by an angry mob of people. What does this scene mean? Nobody knows. But we can't understand it, so it must be art, right?? I reckon this is how many of these pretentious fanboys of this film view this matter. What Tarkovsky is doing in this entire film does not require any kind of imagination or creativity. He loosely creates short stories which have no cohesive connection with eachother, and he implements a lot of random dialogue or events that make it seem like it is actually a very clever film, while in reality it is devoid of all substance. A film that is not decipherable does not automatically make it 'art'. It just makes it meaningless, devoid of life & empty. Of course, all Tarkovsky films have this narcissistic kind of pretentiousness ( Even a good movie like Solaris ), but it is in this case painfully obvious that is is purely there to cover up the creative and emotional emptiness that this motion picture is full off.
Having seen the full 205 minute version of Andrei Rublev, it also became quite clear that there were numerous scenes and shots that simply held no value at all. The intro as stated before is an example, but there was also a shot of a horse tripping ( Which made no sense whatsoever ), the actual stabbing of an actual horse during one of the Tartar invasion scenes ( Which also made no sense ), and the fact that the final hour of the film suddenly brings forth a character nobody has seen before building a bell ( Again, there is very little structure at work here ). It is true that some of the shots during this final hour are phenomenally choreographed and created, also featuring a lot of dynamic crane camera movements which truly do make me wonder about how that was shot, but again, in substance, it is lacking severely. Not to mention the weird 15 minute outro by showing colorized iconographs. There's no doubt that pseudo intellectuals and self proclaimed 'film buffs' will find some hidden meaning there, but there really isn't any.
Tarkovsky uses a lot of biblical quotations and uninspired pseudo intelligent dialogue to make sure people are fooled into thinking this empty lifeless exercise in his narcissistic nature can be considered 'art'. With people today claiming that everything can be art according to the person in question, this is something that's not very hard to do. The truth is, not everything can be art, and Andrei Rublev is one of them, as it is the equivalent to a modern painting with 2 lines on it being called 'innovative', 'daring' & 'genius'. Both have no meaning.
Even though Tarkovsky is not necessarily a bad director, it's obvious that his self indulgent and narcissistic nature got the better of him for most of his films, thus creating 'Andrei Rublev', a pure exercise in subjective self-indulgence and wannabe art, which holds no actual value in quality apart from some technical brilliances.
If one is expecting a conventional narrative, character development, or a compelling story, L'eclisse is definitely not the right place to look. While being conventional is not a 'must', using unconventional filming methods purely to disguise the fact that one cannot film a conventional one is in fact quite terrible.
To be fair, director Antonioni, a self proclaimed 'intellectual', did create one good film ( L'Avventura ), so it's not like this is a director that's completely worthless. However, even though said film did not follow a conventional narrative, it still had coherence, and managed to flow from scene to scene while still maintining immersion into the picture. L'eclisse does not have this 'flow', or this 'cohesion'. L'eclisse is essentially a 2 hour propaganda piece against capitalism. Antonioni doesn't shy away from creating half hour scenes consisting of only a bunch of people yelling like morons at a stock market. Of course, this scene does not tell us anything about any individual characters nor do they have any kind of storytelling. It is only there to show you how 'evil' capitalism is. While there are a lot of European films maintaining slight anti-capitalism sub text, Antonioni lacks the subtlety of superior films, and forces his viewpoints down the viewer's throat due to these excruciatingly long stock market scenes.
Of course, our two main characters played by Monica Vitti & Alain Delon ( The acting of them being one of the few good points in the film, along with excellent cinematography ), are also depicted as meaningless, devoid of life & in the case of the latter, completely materialistic. These characters do not resemble nor feel like real people. Instead, every character is made robotic in the most absurd and anti-capitalist way possible, to the point where this film ceases to be immersive, or compelling.
Of course, and this is especially present during the end of this picture, there is also a lot of pretentiousness in this propaganda piece. It seems to be desperate to make people feel like it has something to say, but in reality, there is no deeper meaning or sub text in this film, except for the obvious economic bias. I reckon everybody has the first-hand instinct of disliking this pretentious self-indulgent twaddle, and trust me, that is indeed the right one. It is a very typical example of an empty film masquerading as something more, and fooling thousands of people in the process.
All of this means that Antonioni has abandoned a search for perfection for a very subjective personal message. Since all messages are subjective, they are always lower on the priority list than the story or the characters themselves, thus making sure there is no reason to care about anything that happens in this picture.
A mediocrity masquerading as an innovative revolution
As one of the most famous entries brought forward by French cinema's so called 'New Wave', Breathless has been met with critical acclaim by critics and is ranked #13 of all time in a 2012 Sight & Sound poll. Of course, all of these awards and statusses mean very little, and it is quite obvious that everyone involved in making it have this 'iconic' status is biased and affected by the simple notion of 'uniqueness' in cinema, or are suffering from a plain form of pseudo intellectuality.
To properly place a verdict on this film, one has to take into consideration some of director Jean Luc Godard's visions on cinema. Being a communist, he despised the traditional forms of cinema, and preferred innovation and change above craft and expertise. What this really means, of course, is simply that Godard is a really poor director who was unable to tell conventional stories in a succesful fashion. Breathless is an experiment, and nothing more. It is a film suffering from an incoherent plot ( If there is one ), horrible editing, mediocre sound & horrendous dialogue. The only impressive factor in this 'experiment' are some well choreographed long takes, featuring many changes of directions and requiring a lot of precise timing. However, this is all undone by the terrible jump cut technique Godard implemented here. Apparently, this was caused by Godard being forced to cut a lot of footage, which resulted in a lot of jump cuts being used so he could shorten them out while still using parts of the footage, making sure the audience is even more alienated to whatever is happening on screen.
There is no plot in Breathless. A man starts driving in his car and starts mumbling some of the most random dialogue imaginable during this drive. It also features a horrible fourth wall break, and leads to him getting pulled over by a cop and subsequently killing this cop for no apparent reason. This leads to our main character running away and spending the rest of the film with his American girlfriend while seemingly not caring a bit about whether he gets caught or not. This continues throughout the film, as neither him or his girlfriend show a little bit of emotional importance to their situation, leaving the viewer with little reason to care about what happens to both of them. Of course, our main character is also unsympathetic, moronic, childish and just plain unlikeable. The 'romance' between both main characters has zero charisma whatsoever, and these people simply do not behave as real people. A lot of the dialogue was improvised, and it seems that these two were not very good at that, as nearly all dialogue is either out of place, devoid of intelligence, or pretentious.
So, apart from the fact that there's nothing to like about Breathless, it's obvious technical and creative shortcomings such as a lack of narrative structure or fleshed out characters also make sure there's nearly nothing to appreciate about it either. To put it plainly; Breathless is a mess. It has been overhyped horrendously by pretentious self proclaimed 'cinephiles' because it favors a 'changing of the guards' and because they think it makes them look smart. This is why defenders of this film can generally only counterargument skeptics with the lowly argument of 'You didn't get it' or 'You're too dumb'. The truth is, there is nothing to understand about Breathless. It does not have depth, it does not have intellect. The sole reason for its acclaim is based on the fact that it dared to break a lot of unwritten rules of conventional cinema, and this is something that in no way relates to it actually having some quality.
Breathless has terrible improvised dialogue, horrendous editing in the form of jump cutting, mediocre acting, no story, no character development, no cinematic drama or emotional power and is in the end a poorly executed experiment instead of a film, and truly exposes Godard for the mediocrity that he is.
Hitchcock's Magnum Opus; A masterpiece on pathological obsession
With an incredibly storied career, director Alfred Hitchcock has created many outstanding motion pictures, and while Psycho (1960) is undoubtedly his most iconic and influential, he never quite reached the level of sophistication, narrative prowess & depth that he reached in Vertigo, which is arguably the master's greatest film.
It did require a second viewing for me personally to appreciate Vertigo for the work of art that is truly is, and even though it is a bit of a cliché these days, Vertigo is the kind of motion picture that definitely needs to be seen multiple times in order to be judged properly. This is the case because the initial first time viewer will most likely focus on the primary narrative, which consists 'Scottie' Ferguson helping his army buddy Gavin Elster investigate the strange behavior of his wife. This entire narrative already seems to wrap up completely after a little over half of the movie's entire runtime, which will probably leave the initial viewer with feelings of confusion & unsatisfaction. However, one of the greatest aspects of Vertigo is that it has this classic Hitchcock mystery/twisted atmosphere, but also an incredibly deep surreal layer added on top of it, which was quite unique for Hitchcock. Thus, the
'usual' Hitchcock narrative wraps up after a little over an hour, paving the way for the much more personal, surreal and obsession based final hour. When you understand what is going to happen in a second viewing, you could become more focused on Scottie's inner confliction and the way he handles his obsession, making the viewer finally realize the emotional resonance and artistic prowess of the final hour.
From one of the greatest opening title sequences to its end, Vertigo is Hitchcock at the absolute top of his game. The title sequence, starting with a shot of the mouth of a woman while moving to her eye, followed by an inside glance of her eye coupled with spiralling imagery, is pretty much an identical piece of storytelling as the coming two hours. In a way, the audience is shown Scottie's future obsession from the viewpoint of the camera itself, making us feel obsessed. From a shot of the mouth of the woman towards the eyes, there are a lot of digital spiralling special effects signifying the loss of self control, making this superb title sequence indeed very reminiscent of what is going to happen afterwards, making it also one of the most creative opening titles ever made.
James Stewart is near flawless as the conflicted John 'Scottie' Ferguson, displaying his wide range of acting talents as a morally complex character. Kim Novak's divine beauty as Madeleine speaks for itself, and her characteristic stiffness perfectly emphasizes her character's precarious situation as she is torn between her own identity and the man she loves. The screenplay is also superb, as is the absolutely gorgeous cinematography and production design, which are used as a medium of subtle sub text and subliminal messages.
I don't think there's any doubt that Vertigo is Hitchcock's most complex & nuanced film, as Vertigo contains many layers of narrative, character & themes. There are not many themes that do not apply to Vertigo, but the most common one is obviously obsession. Ferguson starts out as an individual that is suffering from Acrophobia, which causes Vertigo (Dizziness), after a tragic encounter on a rooftop where an officer died trying to save his life. Guilt stricken by this event, he quits the police force. This sense of guilt precisely seems to be what causes Scottie to want to escape from reality, and see Madeleine as his dream woman, something so surreal and dream-like without him even realizing it. Later it is of course revealed that she was in fact never real, further escalating his descent into madness, and feeding his pathological hunger for her. After Madeleine seemingly jumps off a clock tower, falling to her death, Scottie, a year later, is still haunted by his past memories of her, and sees a mirage of her appear in every one of these places. After later spotting a lookalike ( She was in fact the same woman as Madeleine ) Judy, Scottie becomes obsessed with turning her into his image of Madeleine, the fake image of the woman in question. This is of course a superb bit of character development, and Scottie goes through many different personality phases during the course of the film, being the seemingly average joe near the start, to trying to become the hero he is not, to falling into madness and becoming consumed by obsession near its end.
As for the story itself, which concludes in Gavin Elster throwing his wife out the clocktower ( Scottie in fact never met Madeleine, only Judy ), it is a brilliantly written mystery filled with an unpredictable twist in that everything was a farce made up by Gavin to think his wife committed suicide, which of course all sounds very Hitchcockian. But again, Vertigo's true strength does not solely come from this, but with the way Hitchcock develops these characters, uses the color palette, blocking & camera movements to tell a visual story. The symbolism of color and movement in Vertigo is endless, but a primary example of this is the desaturation of the color red in the background when Scottie first sees Madeline, which emphasizes his future love & longing for her, and of course the color red is generally associated with those particular emotions. Another great example is when Judy finally 'turns back' into Madeleine, covered by a ghostly green tint, to signify that it is indeed a dead woman's image that he loves. These are just one of the many examples where Hitchcock uses color to invoke emotions in the audience.
Of course one cannot forget the incredible contibution of composer Bernard Herrmann to this picture. Quite possibly his greatest score, his works for Vertigo ( Heavily influenced by Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde Prelude ) are a work of art in itself, perfectly encapsulating the tone of the movie, as Tristan & Isolde is also about doomed love, just like the film. When Herrmann's score hits its climax ( Judy turning into Madeleine ), the most personally significant event in the story happens, meaning the placement of the various themes is also fantastic.
Vertigo has a superb mystery narrative for the first hour, and an incredible characterization piece during the second hour. All the while it is brilliantly acted, written, photographed, but above all expertly directed by Hitchcock himself, making it indeed a remarkable achievement and a superb piece of art.
A fantastic tribute to honor and courage in the hearts of men
As still the longest American film production ever made to this day, Gettysburg had a lot to live up to, one of them being to create a fascinating experience for this entire duration, but it has succeeded valiantly in this.
Gettysburg is not your typical war picture full of vivid characterization, twists, or melodrama ( With the exception of a few scenes ). Instead, it chooses to film the strategies of the three day battle, and the battle sequences themselves, in a way that is most historically accurate. While a high amount of detail and fondness to historical accuracy can damage a film's core, ( Seeing as historical accuracy is always an attribute, and not a virtue, in film ) Gettysburg still manages to capture somewhat of a narrative and a general humanitary theme that makes one care about it. Thus, it succeeds not just as a historical piece, but as a seperate piece of art about bravery, honor & courage in the face of adversity, with a valiant sense of patriotism that is so rare to find.
With on-location shooting in Gettysburg, a certain air of authenticity is also given to this picture, and the stunning use of seemingly endless waves of extra's during battle sequences is nothing short of astonishing. These battle sequences themselves are incredibly edited, with a superb overview of the situation the battle is in at a particular point. While there are some close ups of established characters, it generally uses the great action/consequence technique, with people firing their guns, after which in the next cut an opponent hits the ground. This way there is truly an emotional connection to what is happening on screen, instead of if we only got to watch a fixed camera on an invincible protagonist.
Gettysburg also features phenomenal acting, particularly Martin Sheen's depiction of Robert E. Lee, Sam Elliot & Richard Jordan. However, Performances such as Jeff Daniels as Colonel Chamberlain, and Tom Berenger as General Longstreet are also worthy of notice. In the end, there isn't a weak link in the acting performances in the entire picture. The accents are authentic and spot on, the emotional range ( Especially of Richard Jordan ) is superb, and the mannerisms are also fitting. It is not as if we were watching actors, but the real thing.
Randy Edelman's original score is also nothing short of spectacular, perfectly capturing that feeling of courage that the film means to convey. During Pickett's Charge, this gigantic heroic orchestral piece is constantly covering their walk, and while it has been criticized as 'Glorifying violence' for this, one has to remember that this is a story about the courage of the human heart, and the epic musical score enhances this courage during Pickett's Charge, and not because of the fact that it is glorifying this war.
Furthermore, the film does a tremendous job of not depicting either side as villains. There are no villains in this story. There is a large amount of respect from either side to one another, despite their differences in vision. The visual scale of the film is also beyond compare, with four hours and thirty minutes of superb visual filmmaking, and as stated before the fantastic use of loads of extra's without the use of CGI. The days when battle sequences were filmed with this sense of authentic scale now seems long behind us.
Now, what truly gives Gettysburg that humanist edge that makes one care about it, despite its technical brilliance in the battle sequences? There are numerous moments of characters expressing their regrets, or their views on the war, and particularly those of General Amistad ( Richard Jordan ) can be seen as heartbreaking. These characters are given human form due to these small little talks around the campfire. Chamberlain's opening speech is also an example of this. Admittedly, it has some restrictions because of the historical accuracy, but there is still a sense of true humanity in these characters, making one care about them.
Gettsyburg features great acting, a fantastic original score, technically and emotionally brilliant battle sequences, and while lying an emphasis on the tactical nature of the battle instead of extended characterization, there is still a large degree of true emotional power in this picture, as one of the greatest examples of a film that combines historical accuracy and raw cinematic power in a splendid fashion.
The ultimate testament to the goodness in humanity
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is not just a movie, it is a beacon of hope, an array of light, if you will. In more concrete terms, it is quite possibly the greatest film ever made, out of the greatest trilogy ever made.
The Return of the King defines the 'magic' of the motion picture arts like no other. This kind of picture is the reason why we watch movies. The emotions going through you as you are experiencing this utter piece of art are quite indescribable, and need to be witnessed first hand. Peter Jackson has created a monument, to be standing tall for years to come, as a motivational piece for humanity.
Since there are no new characters that need to be introduced in Return of the King ( Except for Denethor if you haven't watched the extended edition of The Two Towers ), Return of the King focuses solely on Sauron's attempted destruction of Middle-Earth. This is not, however, a weakness, because the character arcs of characters like Pippin, Sam & Aragorn are being developed more than ever in this last entry of the trilogy, resulting in great character changes due to drastic events.
The acting is, like the entire trilogy, once again near flawless. Sean Astin & Elijah Wood as Sam & Frodo in particular stand out, while the corruption of the Ring tightens its grip around Frodo, with Sam always being there to save him from it. It is a friendship so real, of which the likes is rarely ever depicted on screen, at least not on this level. The make-up on both hobbits truly makes it look like they have crawled through barren wastelands for months on end, and Sam's melancholy references to the Shire, a forgotten period it seems, are truly as poignant as they come. There is a constant sense of hopelessness in what they are trying to do, but they kept on going anyway, due to an iron will of sorts. It is really this mentality that moves large portions of audiences.
The screenplay is ofcourse once again phenomenal. There are many different storylines & character arcs, and to be invested in all of them is truly top notch filmmaking. As i've stated in reviews of the previous films, this is probably also due to Tolkien's superb literature, but the dialogue, the character arcs, it is all perfection. As stated before, in particular Sam's motivational speeches to Frodo are literary masterful, as are the pre-battle speeches of Theoden and Aragorn.
One is too short on words to properly compliment Howard Shore's incredible work on this trilogy. The diversity of his score, his use of leitmotifs, the raw emotional power, this is definitely and undisputably one of the greatest scores ever created for motion pictures. It is weird to image the LOTR films without his iconic score, which, for a very large portion, added extreme layers of emotional intensity to this picture.
Like the previous entries, Return of the King is once again aesthetically pleasing. There are a couple of sets that might have been average looking, but when you look at the technical marvel of a set that Minas Tirith was, these minor shortcomings can easily be neglected. The shot of Gandalf ascending this titanic city while Shore's score plays is just one of the many examples of the goosebump and emotion inducing ride that Return of the King is. The final shots of Frodo & Sam lying on a rock on mount doom are also some examples of visual beauty.
With everything that has happened, and with the constant sense of hopelessness hanging in the air in this particular picture, this whole fictional world truly does seem to be at risk, and there is rarely a film that makes one so firmly root for its protagonist like this one manages to. When Aragorn & Theoden charge after their respective speeches, you wish as you were charging with them, and actually feel like you are doing so. These are some of the most likeable, well developed and complex heroes ever created, and it is sad to leave them for a time ( At least until the next viewing... ). The battle at the black gate, intertwined with Frodo, Sam & Gollum's struggle for the ring, are another marvel of tension filled filmmaking. The slow motion usage in the battle is not there to look 'cool', but to draw out tension and emotion in the audience. The battle sounds fade, and only Shore's melancholy score plays, as if certain characters were meeting their doom in this battle. The fantastic close ups of the facial expressions of our heroes after Sauron is annihilated is of course also a phenomenal kind of acting.
The many ending sequences are sometimes falsely criticized, since one has to keep in mind that we have witnessed a life changing story for our characters, and Frodo's inability to cope with a coming back to his previous and normal life further adds another layer to the complexity and the humane message of this film. The coronation, and the setting out for the Grey Havens also result in one of the both most satisfying & sad movie endings ever created. Furthermore, it is the kind of picture that should have no loose ends lying around, as every single character was set up to be something in the end, which is what has happened.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is capable of invoking emotions in audience that are never felt during any other film ever made. It is a genuinely humanist story about hope, brotherhood, friendship, and seeing the good in humanity despite all of its corruption and death. This is ofcourse all very resonant to the real world. Featuring great acting, character development, writing, cinematography & a phenomenal original score, Return of the King is a state of mind instead of a film, and my personal pick for the 'Greatest of all-time'.
An absolutely stunning continuation of the franchise
While The Two Towers introduces a couple of new characters, it is still not exactly on Fellowship's level due to the character development of that particular motion picture. However, it is still painfully obvious that nearly every other single movie pales in comparison to the masterpiece that is The Two Towers.
In another comparison to the Fellowship of the Ring, the scale is increased significantly in Two Towers, and this results in a lot more special effect shots. It is not quite as beautiful visually as Fellowship because of this, but like in that film, the CGI that is used is once again utterly fantastic. Still, director Peter Jackson seems to only use CGI on objects or creatures it HAS to be used on, because it would be near impossible to utilize practical effects on certain things, such as the Oliphaunt, or an army of ten thousand Uruk-Hai.
With the addition of the 'Rohan' storyline come a couple of new characters, with Bernard Hill as Theoden, Karl Urban as Eomer, Miranda Otto as Eowyn, Brad Dourif as Grima Wormtongue & The motion captured but largely CGI character Gollum 'played' by Andy Serkis. All of these characters are being noteworthy in being a fantastic addition to a cast that was already near perfect.
The score by Howard Shore is still perfection, who uses a new 'Rohan' theme to further emphasize emotion when coupled with these scenes. The very first scene in which this sound is heard is when Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas & another individual arrive at Edoras, in which a flag of Rohan can be seen tearing itself away from the King's keep, and landing right before Aragorn, as if it symbolizes that hope is fading, and that only he can return it. The melancholy new sound of the Rohan-esque themes by Shore further fuel this emotion in the audience.
The dialogue is once again fantastic. Ofcourse this is once again largely thanks to Tolkien's literature, the poems recited by Theoden or the speech of Sam to Frodo ( By rights, we shouldn't even be here ) result in once again a very human story about hope, friendship and brotherhood. Which is ofcourse another thing that Jackson has succeeded as, the constant lingering fear of hopelessness, only to triumph in a great emotional climax in the end.
The acting in the Two Towers is near flawless, and seems to be even a notch above the first one in this aspect. Andy Serkis is absolutely brilliant as the crooked Gollum suffering from a split personality, and his voice perfectly emphasizes this feeling of 500 years of depravity and lust for the ring. Mirando Otto's facial acting when told of Aragorn's 'death' is also worthy of special notice, as the sheer genuine emotion there is almost too much to bear.
Once again, the Two Towers takes its time to set up the premise of the Rohan storyline, and does this with excellent characterization & character bonding. However, the build up would be worth less if it wasn't topped off with the incredible climax during the battle of Helm's Deep, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest cinematic sieges ever put to screen. From the very first shots of this massive army marching before the gates of Helm's Deep, you know this is going to be a special piece of filmmaking. Emphasized by gloomy rainy weather conditions and night-time, this siege is highly atmospheric and this does manage to capture the hopelessness of the situation even more. The story of the siege on Helm's Deep is worthy of a movie in itself, as every single new situation brings our main characters ( Who we have grown to care so much about ) in danger. The editing in this sequence, in particular the amount of widescreen shots as opposed to the closer shots of our protagonists fighting off the Uruk-Hai, is once again perfection. It is only when all hope seems lost, with only a couple handful of soldiers left, that our heroes decide to ride out and meet the adversaries, resulting in an incredible triumphant emotional climax as if we were riding besides them. However, the true climax was still yet to come, as a beautiful image of Gandalf appearing in full white with the Rohirrim behind him is seen, followed by a long charge down a very steep hill, combined with extraordinary cinematography & Shore's incredible score, resulting in one of the greatest charges ever filmed. The emotional satisfaction in this is inhumanly high, and the fact that the victory is pronounced over Sam's very human speech to Frodo makes it even more involving and emotional.
The Two Towers is the weakest link in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is admittedly not saying much, since there are very few films that can possibly compete with it. Featuring superb acting, fantastic dialogue, excellent slow paced characterization, an even more impressive Howard Shore score, gorgeous cinematography & one of the greatest sieges of all-time, The Two Towers is indeed one of the all-time greats of motion pictures.
A true epic of unparalleled proportions, rich in both substance and visual beauty
As the beginning of arguably the greatest trilogy ever made, The Fellowship of the Ring is a true spectacle in every meaning of the word, fully doing justice to Tolkien's legendary literature.
It is very rare these days to find a film that takes so much time by introducing characters & their mannerisms, but Fellowship of the Ring, much in the same vein as the legendary 'Seven Samurai', is one of these films. It is because of this extended exposition of Shire activities that we truly feel connected with the Hobbit characters, whose lifestyle symbolizes that of the average person drowned in ignorance. Director Peter Jackson never seems to be in a rush, and slowly builds his characters this way, while also showing their changes later on in the film, as they have been through more deadly and tragic encounters. Despite these joyous first minutes, Fellowship does a tremendous job in showing what's at stake. There is an atmosphere of impending doom, darkness & shadow in a lot of the later scenes in the film, and every character truly seems to be in peril of some sorts, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats the entire time. I have watched The Fellowship of the Ring countless times now, yet there is a sequence with a broken bridge during the Khazad Dum scenes that still unknowingly made me hold my breath, despite knowing the outcome.
This is why the Fellowship of the Ring doesn't feel like the obligatory good vs evil (With good easily triumphing) struggle, but a true world where something is really at stake. Ofcourse the introductory exposition sequence shows this perfectly, where the origins of the Ring are brilliantly explained, with the backdrop of just some of the gorgeous cinematics that the entire trilogy provides. Despite including many fictional creatures such as Elves, Dwarves & Orcs, Fellowship is in fact a very human story about the internal corruption of the mind, and watching it drive apart the Fellowship can truly be seen as poetic.
Also featuring a perfect cast, Fellowship has no weaknesses in terms of acting either. Be it Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, John-Rhys Davies as Gimli, Sean Bean as Boromir, Cristopher Lee as Saruman, and even the surprising Elijah Wood as Frodo, this cast is impeccable, and none of the actors truly feel as if they could be replaced. The dialogue spoken is phenomenal. Part of this is probably thanks to Tolkien's superb literature, but nonetheless the dialogue sounds very medieval, and further increases the audience's immersion into the picture, since these people really talk as you would expect them to in a world like this.
The original score by Howard Shore is undoubtedly one of the greatest in cinematic history. Particularly his use of leitmotifs is nothing short of spectacular. It should also be noted that the moments of his scores perfectly capture the moment our characters are in, as for example the 'Fellowship' theme is consequently heard in moments where the Fellowship is at its strongest, or during triumphs, but it will be taken over by the corrupted 'Ring' score as the Fellowship slowly disbands. Thus Shore's score tells a story of its own, and it results in one of the most compelling original scores ever created for the big screen.
While Fellowship has the leisurely characterization, the tension, and the immersion by knowing that the entire world truly feels at risk, it ofcourse also has external beauty by its astounding visuals. One of the greatest pieces of cinematography ever put to screen, Fellowship is a constant stream of beautiful images. It is surprising how many of these are not computer generated, but instead on location shoots. It seems Jackson only uses CGI on certain things that cannot be filmed naturally (Such as the Balrog), but when it is used, it is also absolutely gorgeous (Again, look at the design of the Balrog for this), resulting in some of the greatest CGI ever made for a motion picture. There are also many stunning widescreen compositions of the beautiful New Zealand landscape, creating a perfect setting for Middle Earth.
But i do believe that the most important factor in the success of Fellowship, and the entire trilogy for that matter, is the superb characterization. The brotherly relationship between Frodo & Sam, and the tragic encounters they endure together will never fail to bring tears to the manliest of eyes, because we get to know these characters so well during the introductory sequences. After watching 'The Fellowship of the Ring' for about the hundreth time, it truly feels like coming home, and this is why it just keeps getting better and better.
Epic in both scope and scale, vivid in characterization, poetic in shot compositions, filled with tension and raw emotional power, featuring one of the greatest scores of all time, there is no doubt that The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is one of the greatest motion pictures of all time, and rarely shall we see anything that could possibly equal its divine power.
An audacious mixing of the supernatural & the traditional
High Plains Drifter is one of director ( And ofcourse legendary actor ) Clint Eastwood's first motion pictures, and definitely builds the foundations of his future success superbly.
Eastwood manages to put himself on the map immediately with this picture, as it dares to take many risks which could have easily turned out very badly. In a time when immorality in westerns (Especially Hollywood ones) was frowned upon, he manages to create this fantastic picture in which every single character is a corrupt, immoral & spineless individual. Not to mention the fact that there is also a significant supernatural layer covering this story, creating an atmosphere that feels like a mix between unsettling horror & a standard western.
From the very first shots of the Stranger emerging out of nowhere from a mirage, to him moving down to the town of Lago on a pale horse (Which is a metaphor for death), we are immediately thrown into the mystery of the origins of his character, and his later indifference towards killing three men harassing him further fuels the mysterious nature of this character. Dee Barton's score also mixes ambient noises reminiscent of horror movies with a more uplifting sound which is more reminiscent of the traditional western, which perfectly captures the dual atmosphere this film tries to reach.
Eastwood also fills up the film with a lot of well-developed characters, who are given defining characteristics. Ofcourse, all of them still have in common that they are immoral and crooked, but every single character is corrupted in their own way. There's obviously not a lot of relatability with these characters, but one has to remember that this is a picture about immorality, and the Stranger's character symbolizes the Angel of Death exacting vengeance over them for their sins, as a superb metaphorical experience. The plot structure is also consequently fascinating, as a combination of flashback sequences tell the previous story in itself. High Plains Drifter is exceptionally great in this regard, as it manages to balance the fine line between ambiguity and coherence perfectly. In the end, there still is a lot of mystery as to who or what the Stranger is, but the subtle hints and the cohesive narration beforehand make sure that nothing feels pretentious or abstract.
Bruce Surtees's cinematography is stunningly beautiful, with fantastic combinations of close-ups and widescreen shots which are obviously reminiscent of Eastwood's former master Sergio Leone. Particularly the night time sequences ( Especially the final one ) are aesthetically superb. There is a consequent reel of beautiful images created by Surtees's photography, and Eastwood's direction only enhances the poetic meaning of this. (A shot of the Stranger whipping one of the bandits with a raging fire in the background is a prime example of the visual expertise at work. )
In the end, High Plains Drifter is bold in its theme and story, visually beautiful, metaphorically deep, well acted & well scored, paving the way in showcasing the exceptional directional talents of Eastwood.
A riveting, tension filled 'thriller' in the confines of one single room
As a directional debut, you could do worse than Sidney Lumet's excellent '12 Angry Men'. It would be the beginning of an illustrious career, even though perhaps the heights of his debut would never quite be reached again.
12 Angry Men is, apart from several opening shots, closing shots and a couple of scenes in a side room, filmed completely in one single room. To create a fascinating, character driven & tension filled picture can be quite difficult for some directors with this knowledge, but Lumet's direction here is world class. He uses the single location to enhance the feeling of claustrophobia, which also enhances a feeling of tension as all characters grow angrier as the film progresses. Much has been said about Lumet's use of camera angles to enhance the mood in our characters, such as the fact that the camera is generally placed at higher angles during the first act of the film, and gradually seems to be placed lower and lower towards the end, as more people are convinced of the 'not guilty' vote, so the camera emphasizes their superiority over the 'guilty' voters. Even though the film is largely in a single room, Lumet also uses weather conditions as a mood setter, with the setting being in a heatwave of some kind, and when the tables start turning towards the end in terms of the votes, the weather switches to pouring rain, which is generally an even larger symbolism of 'chaos', and that is precisely what is going on during the final moments of this picture.
12 Angry Men is also undoubtedly one of the best acted films in cinematic history, with in particular Lee J. Cobb giving the performance of a lifetime. This is not just an angry character, thriving on nihilistic thoughts and hating on everything that happens, but a tragic character that is prejudiced due to his strained relationship with his own son. This brings forth another point, which are ofcourse all twelve characters. All of these characters have some kind of background, origin, and all of them behave very differently and according to their personal lives and experiences. An opening shot of the room featuring all of the jurors entering and bantering with eachother already gives the audience an idea as to what kind of people these jurors are. All the while Lumet uses very long takes, switching between mid-shots & wide-shots in single takes to create the most immersive and personal experience possible. Later in the film, when things start to heat up even more, he also induces a fantastic use of the close-up, which is ofcourse generally the most personal and direct of shot compositions.
Furthermore, the screenplay by Reginald Rose is also a phenomenal addition to this film, as every single line of dialogue, character building and general confrontations enhance the tension significantly. Ofcourse, we do not get to witness extraordinary production design or scale due to the simplistic setting, but it is hard to imagine what Lumet could have done even better considering the material he was given.
Due to Lumet's technical expertise, visual mood setters, claustrophic atmosphere & the fantastic energetic acting, it feels as a 'thriller' in a drama setting. Ofcourse the fact that the audience does not know anything about the case beforehand also helps, since the viewer will be even more compelled to follow the discussions used in this picture, because we do not know anything about the case yet. In the end, whether or not the kid is guilty is shown to be quite irrelevant, as this film is mainly a message about the interference of personal prejudice in terms of law. Every character, however, is displayed as having some kind of humane reason as to why they think a certain way. Even Juror #3, who, as stated before, relates the kid in question to his own relationship with his son.
As one of the best-acted films of all time, combined with a fantastic screenplay, impeccable direction, in depth character development and characterization, 12 Angry Men is no doubt one of the greatest directional debuts ever made.
Those expecting some kind of typical Hollywood-esque melodrama western when observing The Great Silence will be in for quite a surprise, as this motion picture focuses more on the inhumanities of its time period, instead of glorifying it.
The Great Silence is one of the more serious, and more in-depth of all spaghetti westerns. Part of this is obviously due to the unconventional setting in the snow. The hardness and ruggedness of this snow setting truly helps capture the depressing atmosphere this film provides, just by looking at the visuals. The hard time our characters are seen having moving through this snow symbolizes the desolate storyline and atmosphere. Director Sergio Corbucci also makes fine use of stunning widescreen shots of the on-location shoot, combined with the Leone-esque closeups to further enhance tension in certain situations. The fact that this was an on-location shoot is also quite possibly an enhancer for the tremendous acting performances throughout the film, especially by maniacal villain Loco played by Klaus Kinski. There are no greenscreens, only the both beautiful and bleak landscapes of the snowy areas in which was filmed.
As stated before, the acting is excellent, with Klaus Kinski's being the stand-out performance. Frank Wolff also provides an excellent performance as the sheriff, and Leone regulars Luigi Pistilli & Mario Brega are stellar as usual. The main role of silence played by Jean-Louis Trintignant ofcourse requires no dialogue, but the mannerisms and facial expressions are more than adequate.
What is one of the most fascinating aspects of The Great Silence is undoubtedly the way in which it depicts its differences in morality. The bounty hunters ( usually associated with the 'good guys' ) are depicted as villains, and the outlaws ( usually associated with the 'bad guys' ) are depicted as survivors left no choice but to rob and kill to survive due to progress and capitalism. Bounty hunting is shown as an inhumane and legal excuse to hunt and kill another human being in cold blood, which was all in the confounds of the law at the time. With these moral complexities, The Great Silence has a sound statement about the human condition, and Corbucci doesn't shy away from showing the audience the worst side of it. Some feel-good audience members will perhaps be turned off by this rough and somewhat depressing theme, but at the same time it is one of the most profound and in-depth studies of inhumanity.
Ofcourse one cannot forget the once again superb original score by the greatest filmcomposer of all time, Ennio Morricone. The intro of Silence marching through the snow while the title sequence plays, combined with Morricone's superb 'restless' score, is cinematic perfection. Some parts of the original score also feature a more ominous sound, which also fits perfectly in the sinister atmospheric feel that this picture creates.
One also cannot forget to mention the controversial ending sequence, in which Silence and Pauline (The woman he was assisting after her husband was murdered in cold blood by Loco) are mercilessly gunned down by the 'evil' bounty hunters, who take off unharmed afterwards. This is not a conventional ending of a movie, and will probably leave many casual moviegoers in disarray. However, this is not the kind of film that needs to have the Hollywood-cliché kind of situation in which the hero gets to save the day and kill every single bad guy in the end. This is a motion picture with a message about the human condition, and not just blind entertainment. Which is why, this ending is inevitable, and only further enhances the unique and in-depth theme this movie brings forth. An alternative ending was filmed where the sheriff and Silence do manage to kill all of the bad guys and get to live happily ever after, but it feels like such a clichéd and typical Hollywood-esque ending devoid of emotional power, meaning, or depth, created for the more casual moviegoers among us.
Rarely are westerns filmed in a blizzard, which already gives The Great Silence a unique look, but it also enhances the hopelessness and depressing nature of the film perfectly. With an unconventional setting and an unconventional ending, it truly does feel like a one of a kind motion picture, and its unique depiction of categorizing the standard good guys as bad and the standard bad guys as good also gives the audience an in-depth study on the flaws of the human condition.
One of the all-time greats of anti-war motion pictures
Paths of Glory is undoubtedly Stanley Kubrick's first truly great motion picture, and in turn cemented his talented potential in the motion picture industry. Ofcourse, he would later follow this up by directing at least six more films of superb quality, yet the typical Kubrick technical aspects are first visible in this particular picture.
In a way, Paths of Glory is the most humane movie that Kubrick has ever made, and while certain trackingshots are very reminiscent of later projects such as The Shining (1980), this is still for Kubrick terms a very unconventional film. While one cannot deny Kubrick's genius as a director of angles, visuals, depth or artistic imagery, his films are generally emotionally quite disconnected since his character development is quite minimal, and the characters themselves one dimensional. ( Yeah, Alex DeLarge is an exception to this ) However, Paths of Glory is one of the most coherently structured films Kubrick has ever made, and doesn't have that 'weird-esque' feeling to it that later Kubrick films might have. It also has the strongest message about humanity and evil indifference, which in a way makes this Kubrick's most personally touching film by far, and the result is that it is without a doubt the most emotionally draining film he has ever made.
Colonel Dax ( Kirk Douglas ) is the metaphor for the sole representation and hope of humanity, whereas every other high ranking officer symbolizes the evil and inhumanity of man. The picture does a tremendous job by showing the futility of war, and the corruption of those involved. The enemy is never shown, and battle sequences, while technically superbly filmed, are deliberately not very satisfying. This further symbolizes the fact that this is in the end about an army fighting itself, instead of an enemy, which ofcourse also emphasizes the ultimate uselessness of war. The only German that is shown ( The female singer in the final scene ) is depicted as an array of light and hope, instead of hate and anger as is usually associated with the enemy.
The acting is generally superb, with in particular an outstanding performance by Kirk Douglas in the lead role, who truly seems to be the sole 'human' officer depicted in the film. The screenplay that is accompanied with this ( In particular later discussions between him and his superior officers ) is also fantastic, as the dialogue is intelligent and very relevant to this reflection of the human condition and the corruption thereof. There are a couple of short scenes in which the three future victims are introduced, and they are depicted as the average joe's who are quite comparable to nearly every other human being, and therefore their dilemma is even more emotionally compelling.
In terms of technical aspects, Paths of Glory is also phenomenal. It is one of the best looking black-and-white movies ever made, which is a result of fantastic cinematography. The lighting in the jail sequences, the sideways tracking shots of the charge on the ant hill or the execution walk, every shot is close to perfection. Ofcourse the long trackingshots in the trenches also help enhance the situation our characters are in, and Kubrick's blocking in the officer scenes is fantastic, with many varieties in mood swings which are always emphasized by a character sitting down, standing up, or walking a certain direction. The dynamics in these exposition scenes are remarkable due to these varying visual hierarchies. One also has to mention the fantastic production design of the indoor sets featuring the high ranking officers, which definitely gives the audience this aristocratic kind of feeling that is in high contrast to the bleak trackingshots in the trenches featuring the normal soldiers.
In the end, Paths of Glory is Kubrick's greatest personal effort, and among his greatest films. It is a genuinely human story under inhuman conditions, and with a final scene that is one of the greatest metaphorical and emotional sequences ever created in cinema, it is indeed one of the all-time greats in terms of anti war motion pictures.
The penultimate film about terror and fear through paranoia
The easiest kind of horror these days are obviously cliché fests overloaden with cheap jump scares. All of which require little in the way of intelligent writing or cohesive storytelling. The Thing (1982) however, takes us back to a time when psychological and intelligent horror films were in abundance, and this is definitely one of the best in that regard.
The Thing is undoubtedly one of the scariest movies ever made. There are very little cheap jumpscares, since The Thing focuses on the most difficult kind of horror to create; The psychological. The scare-factor in The Thing is simply because of the combination of excellent framing, eeriness in atmosphere and ofcourse the haunting soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. The extremely disturbing roar for 'The Thing' also contributes to the terrifying feel of it. All of these factors give the audience an uneasy and on-edge feeling that both enhances the tension significantly and creates a haunting atmospheric feeling. Ofcourse the practical effects ( Possibly the most discussed and praised aspect of The Thing ) are also a significant factor in the creation of actual fear and disgust throughout this film. When comparing these special effects to those of a later prequel, The Thing (2011), a painstakingly obvious verdict is that the latter's overuse of CGI really looks phony, ridiculous and not at all scary in any way. You could call the practical effects of The Thing (1982) absurd, and that is exactly what it was going for. The practical effects look disgusting, haunting and menacing. Besides which, the 'Thing' was shown far too often in said prequel, as opposed to the little screen time in this particular film, which significantly drains the tension as the psychological side of a largely unseen 'thing' is about the most intelligent feeling of unease one could get. That is why this is more than just a mere 'monster' flick, as the emphasis is on the tension and paranoia instead of the actual gore.
As stated before, the original soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is an absolutely haunting piece that breathes fear ridden atmosphere like no other. A sense of hopelessness, paranoia, and a literal mimic of a human heartbeat are all present in the score. The opening scene of a helicopter attempting to shoot down a dog/wolf while Morricone's score is playing is quite possibly one of the most absorbing, haunting & beautiful opening scenes ever made.
The acting is excellent, which is ofcourse a pretty rare thing in a horror film. There isn't a single weak performance visible, and a unique stand-out has to be the half dog, half wolf actor Jed. Never looking at the camera or crew, while maintaining this sense of alienism in him ( Especially the scene where he is first lead to the kennel, followed by his haunting wall-stare ), truly make it seem like this is the actual Dog-thing. Characterization is not as thorough and in depth as for example Alien (1979), but none of the characters are forgettable and each acts according to their personalities. Most of the characters are shown to be resourceful and intelligent, since they quickly figure out the Thing's intentions and origin, as opposed to the usual stereotypical horror dumb characters. There might not be much interesting in terms of the narrative itself, but The Thing's strength comes from the way that the situations themselves are filmed, and director John Carpenter purposely left a lot of key events off-screen, to feed the eager anticipation of the audience even more, and leaves us wondering, just like the characters, who to trust.
With very little over the top exposition and a superb flow of visual storytelling ( Like the scene in which 'twoface' revives and assimilates someone, which is shown with a slight movement beforehand while blood starts dripping down, as opposed to ham fisted dialogue ), The Thing is indeed an intellectual piece of horror filmmaking, and Carpenter was ofcourse one of the best in the business at this regard. There is a lot of purposeful ambiguity ( Especially in the much discussed final scene ) which only enhances the paranoid and unknowing feel the audience receives.
The Thing is one of the most frightening films ever created, and does this through superb direction and tension building, extremely disturbing and terrifying practical effects, but above all, the creation of paranoia and inner fear and mistrust. When you analyze the situation our characters are in, there are very little films that have a more terrifying premise, since this alien organism is disguising itself as a normal human being, and could be anybody next to you at any time. Thus it is definitely one of the greatest horror flicks ever created.
An utter masterpiece of visuals and sound, resulting in one of the most immersive war experiences ever created
The 90s is arguably the greatest decade for master filmmaker Steven Spielberg, with possibly his three greatest films emerging from this era. Saving Private Ryan is one of these three films, and once more shows Spielberg's versatility as a director.
Saving Private Ryan consists mostly of a constant use of Steadicam shots, which is these days often confused with 'Shakycam'. When comparing Saving Private Ryan's camera movements to those of the modern action movies of today, what stands out is that it is seemingly only used to heighten the immersion of the scene ( Unlike shakycam ). For example, if there is an explosion, the camera will often move with the tremor of this, and the same is true for heavy gunfire. All of this makes the audience seemingly 'present' in the inhuman war setting that is displayed, and the result is that SPR is undeniably one of the most realistic and immersive war films ever created. This is why, even though the camera is shaking a lot, the situation is still clear, and the audience doesn't miss a whole lot in the overview of the battles. SPR utilizes a lot of long takes that frequently differ from being a complete wideshot to a medium or a close-up, which creates a great variety in shot compositions, and the long takes ofcourse significantly increase the immersion, as every little detail and every piece of movement is there in a single shot, while not having to adjust to the new image of an edit.
Yet SPR is not just a constant stream of chaos, as there are also many reflecting scenes between the lines. Many of these 'calm' moments between battle sequences such as the conversations at night in the church, the discussions right before the final battle, Tom Hanks's speech after the bunker attack about his prior job result in a lot of fantastic characterization. All of these conversations will significantly enhance the audience's connection with these characters, as every one of the main characters in the SPR squad is fleshed out and developed, with all of them having defining traits, such as Miller's shaking hands, or Jackson's kissing of the cross. Thus a lot of reason is given to care for the fates of these characters, which ofcourse heightens the emotional core of this film to a high degree.
Tom Hanks is, as usual, once again Brilliant as Captain Miller, from the slow motion reflection scenes during battles to his conversations between them, his acting is top notch and once again proves his versatility as an actor, since he has played roles varying from a very low IQ individual, a loner on an Island & a mobster with a lot of conviction. Be it Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, Matt Damon or Edward Burns, there is not a single unconvincing acting performance in the film. The dialogue is ofcourse also a fantastic addition ( Particularly the Lincoln quote ) to a good script. John Williams's score is superb, and is one of the most American sounding scores ever created for a film, which makes you wonder if any other movie score could ever be more fitting to the subject in question.
With all its technical marvels in the use of the camerawork, there is also a fantastic use of sound, and the battle sequences always feature bombastic sound effects which are usually pitched higher than conversations to truly make the audience hear the terror of WWII. The sound of bombs or gunfire is as terrifying as possibly in SPR, which truly makes the audience feel as if they were there with the characters. Even after all this mayhem, the film still feels as if you are going through Hell, which is ofcourse an extraordinary feat for a film so heavily reliant on extended battle sequences.
Saving Private Ryan is a rare example of an action filled anti-war statement, and Spielberg's impeccable direction allows the audience to live and breathe the experience of it, all the while there is also a lot of characterization going on that makes the audience care significantly about what happens to the main characters.