Sunday, September 21, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (9/14/14 - 9/20/14)

All The President's Men (Alan J. Pakula) ***1/2 - This is one of those films that are filed under "Why Haven't I Seen That One Yet?" category as in films that you'd be surprised I haven't seen since I'm a humungous film buff. This is of course the cinematic dramatization of Woodward and Bernstein's famous expose of the Watergate scandal which brought down Richard Nixon's presidency. Even though I already know how it ends, the film to its credit still manages to hold my interest and tells a gripping, compelling story. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are both very good as the two famous journalists but the film's highlights are the little supporting character roles that pop up here and there: Jason Robards Jr., Jane Alexander, Ned Beatty, Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, etc.

The Public Enemy (William A. Wellman) *** - This film is about a young petty thief's rise to become a gangster during Prohibition. James Cagney of course gives one of his famous gangster performances in this and he's one of the reasons why this film would be recommended viewing. 1931 is shaping up to be the year of the anti-hero between this and Little Caesar. Personally, I strongly prefer the Edward G. Robinson gangster flick. James Cagney would go on to be in better films and better films will be made of the same subject matter. But still, this is a very good film and a must-see if you're a fan of Cagney's and the genre.

Ping-Pong Summer (Michael Tully) **1/2 - Coming of age teen comedy set in the 1980's about a somewhat awkward teen who tries to win the girl and prove himself through Ping-Pong. It's not really a bad film. It's well-made and reasonably well-acted but it's super-cliche. We have seen all these characters, tropes and narrative beats before in both coming of age teen comedies and also sports movies. It's right there cobbled together with a healthy dosage of '80s nostalgia which is laid on pretty thick. It's an inoffensive time killer but there are far better films of the same stripe out there.

The Long Gray Line (John Ford) **** - This is a biopic of Irish immigrant Martin Maher and his fifty years of service in West Point Academy. Okay, it is basically Goodbye Mr. Chips set in West Point but it is so much better than that. But of course this comes from John Ford, the director is more well-known for his Westerns but I think his forays out of the genre are worth taking note of and this is probably one of the best examples of it. It is funny, sad and moving all throughout and featuring wonderful performances by Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara. It is one of Ford's lesser known works which I think must be seen more. By the way, is it just me or does Ford really know how to frame a scene. Even though this film is set almost entirely inside a school and is basically a family drama, it feels epic yet never loses its intimacy.

Our Hospitality (Buster Keaton/John G. Blystone ) ***1/2 - This is not my favorite Buster Keaton movie. But it's still a pretty damn good film and very much highly recommended. A young man goes back to birthplace to claim his late father's estate only to find himself a target of an old family feud. As per usual, the film features some great slapstick sequences and pretty amazing stunts. It is a bit darker than a lot of Keaton's work (the entire prologue is very much dramatic) at least among those I've seen. The gags are hit and miss in the first act but the last 15 or so minutes are pretty genius.

A Walk Among the Tombstones (Scott Frank) *** - Films where Liam Neeson kicks the shit out of bad guys is almost sub-genre of films onto themselves. A bit like Steven Seagal if Steven Seagal was a great actor. Among that I've seen, this is the best. That's kind of like damning it with faint praise but it shouldn't. After an unfortunate incident, an NYPD cop becomes a private investigator and is hired by a drug dealer to find the kidnappers and murderers of his wife. It's actually a pretty solid thriller with actually more substance that you would expect. It's extremely well shot (by rising star cinematographer Mihai Malamaire Jr.) and Liam Neeson actually gets to stretch his acting muscles a bit here. All in all, not a bad film at all.

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent) ***1/2 - A single mother, whose husband was killed in an car accident the same night she gave birth, is at the end of her ropes raising a son with behavioral problems start to see and feel the presence of a monster called the Babadook. If you have a chance to see this extraordinary Australian horror film, SEE IT. Horror films are a dime a dozen these days. So many bad ones are made every year so for a horror movie to stand out as something special without resorting to gore and titties. This year, this is the one. It is legitimately pretty scary but it also dares tackle very heady and very human themes of dealing with grief, dealing with deep-seated emotions and of course parenting. Wonderfully directed with superb performances from the two leads. I would describe it as Next to Normal meets The Exorcist. Seriously, I highly recommend it.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Robert Enrico) *** - Celebrated short film about a man who escapes execution in the titular bridge. I've heard about this film a lot in my circle. They keep talking about how much of a shock the ending is. I think I read somewhere this film actually "invented" the twist ending in a way. I will say that it is well-made but I can't help but feel a bit disappointed because I actually GUESSED the ending a few minutes before it happened. It's a fine movie. It didn't live up to the hype.

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