Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On the Waterfront (1954)

* * * * *

Most people forty or younger will only recognize one thing about On the Waterfront; the line "I coulda been a contender." Movie fans will have seen the film listed on all-time best lists and some know Marlon Brando is considered the Babe Ruth of acting but don't know why. It’s hard to imagine that any film created over a half-century ago can still have impact on young viewers. One watch of On the Waterfront, though, is like a revelation of why acting, directing, and scoring of films is the way it is today. One can see that each shot, line, acting choice, etc., inspired a film that followed it. The film is more than a history lesson, but the coming-of-age, fight against corruption story of Terry Malloy (Brando) and his decision to testify against the mob which controls the waterfront union. Watch any movie from years before On the Waterfront and it becomes clear that the subtle choices Brando brought to the screen had never been conceived by previous generations of actors. Every scene with Brando is magical, but this isn't a classic only because of him. Karl Malden plays Father Barry, the waterfront's local priest, and is almost as crucial to the film as Malloy. Malden plays a priest in a way that is rarely, if ever, seen on film. Father Barry is a regular person, drinking and fighting with society, but has the courage to stand up against injustice, speak out against corruption and initiate movement toward change. Elia Kazan, also known for A Streetcar Named Desire, created an efficient masterpiece with no fluff; every scene is necessary and overflowing with emotion, beauty, and relevance. It seems that many "classics" are overrated films that are more nostalgic than artistic, but On the Waterfront is everything it is hyped to be and more. The movie transcends Hollywood, popcorn, and DVDs, and saturates the viewer with a complete, powerful film experience.

Good For: anyone who watches movies, a date, to watch with mom or dad or even grandpa/grandma, film buffs, future actors

Bad For: people who can't stand black and white films

The Gallery
The Film Maker: * * * * *

Smokin' Aces (2007)

* *

Smokin' Aces runs 108 minutes; edit out 45 or 50 minutes and you have a good movie. Trailers made Aces appear to be a fun, stylish action/comedy and the first half of the movie is just that. The second half of the movie, however, completely falls apart leaving an unlikely, unimaginative, and disappointing resolution with heaps of useless violence. The idea of hit men and cops both after a snitch to wipe him out or keep him afloat, respectively, is a good idea that should have worked. Don't fault the actors for the collapse. Jeremy Piven of Entourage fame plays the Vegas showman turned drug dealing gangster wanna-be turned rat. The character seems like a strung out Ari Gold that finally gave up chasing Vincent Chase around and succumbed to women and cocaine, but is that a bad thing? Ryan Reynolds, who plays one of the cops chasing Buddy "Aces" Israel, can actually be taken seriously for decent acting, which surprised me more than any of the plot twists. Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, and Ray Liotta are all above average characters, and Common and the beautiful Alicia Keys both shine in their first appearances in a major Hollywood release. The story is presented in stylish text, quick cuts and short scenes that provide a fast moving plot. Even the soundtrack is put together well with a mix of old and new selections. Unfortunately, after about an hour the writing begins to fall apart until it is riddled with bullets just like most of the characters in the movie. Writer-director Joe Carnahan, who made the above average crime film Narc, attempts to tie many unrelated characters together and resolve a plot full of holes in the last forty minutes. In doing so, he rips off True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs, and more while providing absolutely nothing of substance or artistry. Watch this movie for an hour of fast-moving dialogue between interesting characters as they pursue Buddy Israel. About an hour in, shut off the movie and make up your own conclusion. Trust me, it will be more satisfying than the "is that it? who cares?" ending to Smokin' Aces.

Good For: Jeremy Piven fans, drunk people

Bad For: people upset by violence

The Gallery
The Economist: * *

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Knocked Up (2007)

* * * *

There hasn't been much competition, but Knocked Up is the funniest movie so far in 2007. The simple premise of a guy played by Seth Rogen "knocking up" a girl way out of his league is colored with over-the-top raunchy, laugh-out-loud jokes. Rogen is known as the big guy from the 40 Year Old Virgin, and in his first starring role gets the job done but isn't great, and I'm not sure he could star in any film except this which seems to have been written for him. Regardless, because the jokes appear to have been written particularly for him he delivers them perfectly and most of them are made better by a great supporting cast. Katherine Heigl is suprisingly funny for an attractive lead and will draw in the Grey's Anatomy crowd, but Leslie Mann, also in 40 Year Old Virgin, steals the show as the funniest female. Her character is similar to Jeff's wife on Curb Your Enthusiasm as a brutally honest, profane wife of a rich, successful Hollywood husband. Her on-screen husband Pete, played by Paul Rudd, is the movie's best character. Hilarious and sensitive, he provides a laugh almost everytime he is shown with subtle sarcasm and simply great acting. Rogen's crew of stoners include the fat guy, the pervert, the oddball, and the Jesus look alike-blunt of the jokes, and each are equally funny and memorable. As Judd Apatow's follow up to the 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up may be just as funny but less consistent and a little too long at over two hours. Rogen isn't nearly as strong a lead as Steve Carell, but Apatow has shown a knack for selecting great supporting casts. Knocked Up's highs are much higher than its lows and has countless great writing including one at a gynecology appointment which may be an all-time movie line. It's not perfect, but Knocked Up is a great summer comedy that anyone with a good sense of humor will thoroughly enjoy.

Good For: immature people, people who like jokes about weiners, bongs, and the combination of the two, a date

Bad For: easily offended people

The Gallery
The Economist: * * * *
The Surfer: * * *
The Film Maker: * * *