This episode really took me a long time to finish, but when all was said and done, it was well worth it. Not only is there a broad selection of films to be had in this one, but I also dived into quite a few different eras in one single week, so it should make for a fun read.
The Big Sleep (1946) - 8/10
I continue down the road of self-discovery through a visit to the classic Hollywood era, with my stop being The Big Sleep this time around. Knowing next to nothing about it beforehand – except for maybe all the praise it has received over the decades – I went in hoping for the best and expecting some old school noir. And in the end, old school noir is exactly what I got from the movie, with The Big Sleep proving to be a quintessential piece of noir filmmaking. Humphrey Bogart shines in the leading role, performing his part perfectly and with the kind of charisma that seems to be long gone these days, and Lauren Bacall is both mesmerising and vividly expressive as the love interest. The two also complement each other brilliantly with the type of chemistry that is undoubtedly very rare to come across. On the other hand, though, The Big Sleep is far from an easily comprehensible ride, presenting a deeply confusing plot with too many names and faces that need remembering for the whole picture to even begin to make sense. Perhaps on some level, though, its terribly jumbled storyline is part of what makes The Big Sleep such a memorable and captivating cinematic ride.
Strangers on a Train (1951) - 8/10
Last week’s viewing got me in the mood for more Alfred Hitchcock films, so I went ahead and decided to go with Strangers on a Train next due to its intriguing premise. In a way, the movie did not exactly turn out to be what I expected, but it was an excellent film nonetheless. There are some really iconic scenes to be had in this one, and Robert Walker’s antagonistic performance is very impressive and delightfully engaging. Strangers on a Train is also one of the best examples of Hitchcock’s ability to build suspense, starting things off fairly simple and concluding with a climax which is hard not to be fully enthralled by. I also loved the small touches that Hitchcock added to this film, such as the entire amusement park sequence or the scene where Bruno has a chat with two ladies about how to pull off the perfect murder. There are plenty of memorable moments to be had in Strangers on a Train, and as such it is both an excellent motion picture and one that won’t be forgotten soon.
Super (2011) - 4/10
Despite not being quite taken with the wave of real life superhero films that has followed with the success of Kick-Ass last year, I was still relatively excited to see what Super had in store, particularly because it seemed to have a very interesting and unusual cast comprised of actors such as Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, and Kevin Bacon. Unfortunately, though, I enjoyed very little of this movie and thought even less of it as a whole. Director James Gunn, whose previous film Slither I found to be very impressive, definitely seemed to have something specific in mind for Super, but I felt like the execution was ultimately greatly underwhelming and disappointing. He was obviously going for a very indie vibe with this one, injecting some random out-of-the-blue and unexpectedly surreal moments along the way and somewhat intentionally giving the film a cheap look in places, but in spite of succeeding in some respects, Super ends up feeling like a complete mess both in plot construction, character development, and – more than anything – tone. There are some interesting scenes here and there, and there’s a particular moment that springs to mind that I found to be surprisingly effective and unexpectedly shocking (those who have seen the movie will know which part I’m talking about), yet when all was said and done, Super simply left me with a bad taste in my mouth and wishing I had spent my time doing something else, a feeling which few films have managed to bring out in me.
Your Highness (2011) - 2/10
I can’t say that I really looked forward to Your Highness, as I have read some reviews beforehand and figured that the medieval age and American crude humour would not particularly mix well together, no matter how both were executed. Ultimately, I actually ended up liking the film even less than I expected – or in this case, hating it more than I expected would be more appropriate, and I do believe that my slight bias towards it had little to do with the outcome. There’s surprisingly little to like in Your Highness, and rarely do any worthwhile moments present themselves throughout its course, mostly coming off as a tasteless exercise both in comedy and in period filmmaking. The sets and costumes are bland and uninteresting, the acting is greatly underwhelming considering the big names starring in it (though I have to applaud Danny McBride for his wonderfully pessimistic and enjoyable performance) and the plot is downright horrendous. There have no doubt been plenty of rubbish screenplays for big budget Hollywood productions before, but it’s rare to come across one so awful that it destroys the entire film. Suffice it to say that the storyline is utterly clichéd and formulaic to the core, the jokes are rather sparse and rarely do they hit the right notes, more often coming off as bad in taste, and the dialogue also leaves a lot to be desired. As for the cast, James Franco was merely decent in the leading role (his terrible British accent did not help, be it intentional or not), and as mentioned before McBride was the most noteworthy out of the lot. It was pretty sad to see actors as talented as Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, and Justin Theroux wasted in such one-dimensional and even somewhat demeaning roles. Perhaps I am being too negative here, and perhaps seeing the film again under the influence may make it more appealing (as it does to other things, as we all know), but fact to the matter is that Your Highness is a regrettable piece of garbage, but a piece of garbage nonetheless. I recommend a good amount of alcohol if you still decide to get on with it, though.
Stake Land (2011) - 7/10
Going into Stake Land I realised how much I missed post-apocalyptic films, with this year being not as kind to the genre as the previous few years have been. Fortunately, this movie embraced the genre quite impressively while also putting somewhat of a new twist on it, making the film feel refreshing and interesting. The plot is relatively average and filled with clichés of the genre (such as religious cults ruling the world or the survivors being picked off one by one), but the movie makes up for that with solid acting (especially from Nick Damici and Kelly McGillis), beautiful cinematography, and well-paced scenes. The vampires looked fairly impressive in terms of both make-up design and special effects, and the gore was also pretty well-done. I also enjoyed the score, which seemed to fit in well most of the time. All in all, Stake Land may not be exactly ground-breaking, but it’s a solid post-apocalyptic genre exercise that is both entertaining and thoroughly well-done. For more info about the film check out my ‘addicted to horror’ feature on it from back in August.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) - 7/10
I had high hopes for Captain America: The First Avenger, even though I wasn’t exactly sure how well a movie about Captain America would work, seeing as how ‘propagandistic’ a superhero like him may appear to certain viewers. After seeing it, though, I have to tip my hat off to director Joe Johnston, the writers, and everyone else involved in the shaping of the character in this film for pulling it off so impressively, managing to make Captain America: The First Avenger as accessible to foreign audiences as it is to American viewers while also keeping a sense of patriotism about it that is also present in the comic books. As it turned out, I ended up liking this film even more than I did Thor earlier this year, and it definitely stands among my favourite Marvel comic book adaptations. Chris Evans fully embraces the role of Captain America, delivering a fitting and surprisingly proficient performance, and the rest of the cast is also solid, with noteworthy performances coming from Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Sebastian Stan, and many more. My only real complaint with Captain America: The First Avenger is the relatively scarce amount of action scenes, with many of them only taking up a few minutes of the film’s running time, but aside from that this movie is solid entertainment. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
...And Justice for All (1979) - 7/10
When it comes to Al Pacino monologues, the one in …And Justice for All definitely ranks among his greatest ever. I was already familiar with that particular scene going into this film, having seen parts of it here and there and heard some lines taken right out of it, but I was nevertheless greatly looking forward to this movie, hoping that there would be more to it than that single famous sequence. In a way, …And Justice for All did turn out to have more to offer, but in another sense I also ended up feeling slightly disappointed with the overall result. Don’t get me wrong, this is a solid film that showcases Al Pacino’s scene-stealing acting chops, and it also has quite an impressive storyline to it, but truth is that the movie has not aged well at all, and furthermore there are a couple of moments that are quite poorly executed. Take for example the helicopter ride, which is not only excessively long and ultimately pointless, but it also has Al Pacino behaving like a madman (and not at his greatest, I should say) and delivering some pretty cringe-worthy acting, to say the least. I blame that scene more on the director than on him, though, seeing as how obvious it is that it was both misplaced and lacked purpose. Moving on, as I said before the film has a powerful storyline, boasting some deeply emotional moments and providing a few surprises along the way. When all is said and done, …And Justice for All is well worth seeing, especially if you’re a fan of Al Pacino (you sure are in for a treat towards the end of the film), but those not particularly fond of older films may want to stay away from this one, as it sure hasn’t aged well.
Casablanca (1942) - 10/10
Seeing as how I got this whole classic Hollywood momentum going, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to finally check out arguably the most well-known and loved film of that era, Casablanca. Obviously, my expectations were at the highest possible level, and I also can’t deny that I went into the movie with a slight sense of cynicism, wondering what everyone found in it that was so great. All of my doubts vanished from the film’s very first minutes, though, and Casablanca ultimately turned out to fulfil all of my expectations and then some. I was surprised and kind of stunned that this movie managed to captivate me with a power that even most films of today don’t possess, and I was literally glued to the screen the whole time. The plot is superbly executed, very well-paced and delivers an uplifting finale unlike anything the genre of romance ever had to offer. The cast is outstanding all around, with Humphrey Bogart’s performance representing the embodiment of the definitive leading male, and Ingrid Bergman being fittingly stunning in the love interest role. The finale of the movie really sealed the deal for me, and you only realise the unbelievable power of some of the film’s most memorable quotes once they are put into context. In terms of cinematic achievement, Casablanca is without a doubt one of the best there have ever been and one of the best there ever will be. Seeing it at least once in a lifetime is the minimum requirement, I say.