Rocky

Rocky-rev

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 21:30

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Ben-Hur

ben-hur-reviewBen-Hur (1959)   MGM/Historical-Drama   RT: 212 minutes   No MPAA Rating (violence, intense action sequences, upsetting moments)   Director: William Wyler   Screenplay: Karl Tunberg   Music: Miklos Rozsa   Cinematography: Robert L. Surtees   Release date: November 18, 1959 (US)   Starring: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie, Frank Thring, Terence Longdon, George Relph, Andre Morell.    Box Office: $70 million (US)  

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Few titles come to mind when the term “film epic” is mentioned- Gone with the Wind, The Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Gandhi and Ben-Hur. It won a record eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture, an accomplishment equaled by only two other films- Titanic (1997) and The Return of the King (2003). Ben-Hur really is a towering achievement. It runs about 3 ½ hours long, but you’d never know it because it never gets boring. It’s the sign of a well-made movie when you don’t mind investing more than two hours of your life in it. I’ve seen Ben-Hur three times now and can guarantee that I will watch it again at some point in the future. The centerpiece is a tremendous chariot race sequence that still blows me away to this day. Much like the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin (1925, Sergei Eisenstein), it’s been very influential to other filmmakers over the years. What do you think inspired the pod race sequence in The Phantom Menace (1999)? Everything about Ben-Hur is perfect, even Charlton Heston’s trademark hammy performance. It actually works to his advantage here in that an epic like this needs a square-jawed, tough guy hero with matinee idol good looks.

Last Updated on Monday, 03 March 2014 20:31

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The French Connection

french-connection-reviewThe French Connection (1971)   20th Century Fox/Action-Thriller   RT: 104 minutes   Rated R (language, violence, brief nudity, drugs)   Director: William Friedkin   Screenplay: Ernest Tidyman   Music: Don Ellis   Cinematography: Owen Roizman   Release date: October 9, 1971 (US)   Cast: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi, Frederic de Pasquale, Bill Hickman, Harold Gray, Arlene Farber, Eddie Egan, Sonny Grosso, Benny Marino, Patrick McDermott, Alan Weeks, Ann Rebbot, The Three Degrees.   Box Office: $51.7 million (US)    

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We all know what The French Connection is really about. It’s about that kick-ass chase scene about an hour into the movie. Detective Popeye Doyle (Oscar winner Hackman) goes after a shooter after he makes a failed attempt on his life. The cop commandeers a 1971 Pontiac LeMans and pursues the bad guy who has boarded an elevated train. Doyle drives frantically, narrowly avoiding several collisions (at one point driving against the traffic), as he tries to keep up with the train above. Meanwhile, the bad guy hijacks the train and shoots a policeman that tries to intervene. The train goes out of control after the driver collapses. It’s one of the greatest car chase sequences in the history of film. The editing and tricky camera angles augment the sense of excitement. And it all evolved from a conversation between Friedkin and veteran film director Howard Hawks.

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 January 2014 20:29

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Tom Jones

tomjones-fbTom Jones (1963)   United Artists/Comedy-Adventure   RT: 128 minutes   No MPAA Rating (mild violence, implied sexual content, drunkenness)   Director: Tony Richardson   Screenplay: John Osborne   Music: John Addison   Cinematography: Walter Lassally   Release date: October 6, 1963 (US)   Starring: Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood, Diane Cilento, George Devine, David Warner, Rachel Kempson, Rosalind Atkinson, Wilfrid Lawson, Rosalind Knight, Jack MacGowran, Freda Jackson, Joyce Redman, James Cairncross, Peter Bull, Lynn Redgrave.   Box Office: $11.9 million (US)    

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My first experience with Tom Jones was when I caught it at a Philadelphia theater during its 1989 rerelease (October 26, to be exact). I had never heard of it before and a woman that I spoke to the previous Saturday night at a showing of Next of Kin said that I shouldn’t miss it. Since I couldn’t obtain a copy of it from any of the local video stores, I made the trip into town that Thursday afternoon before work. I enjoyed it very much, but questioned whether it was worthy of its Best Picture award. It’s certainly a good movie, but is it really any better than the other nominees? I can’t really say because I haven’t seen all of them, but I can that it’s far more watchable than the dull Cleopatra, the expensive dud starring power couple Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. I’ve also seen How the West Was Won and it was pretty good. However, Tom Jones is a period piece and the Academy goes crazy for that kind of picture. It’s a romantic comedy/adventure about an 18th century womanizer who falls in love with a kind girl of a higher station.

Last Updated on Monday, 03 March 2014 20:31

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On the Waterfront

on-the-waterfront-reviewOn the Waterfront (1954)   Columbia Pictures/Drama   RT: 108 minutes   No MPAA Rating (violence, mature themes, alcohol use)   Director: Elia Kazan   Screenplay: Bud Schulberg   Music: Leonard Bernstein   Cinematography: Boris Kaufman   Release date: July 28, 1954 (US)   Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Leif Erickson, James Westerfield, Tony Galento, John F. Hamilton, Pat Henning.   Box Office: $9.6 million (US)    

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WOW! That’s the first word that comes to mind regarding Marlon Brando’s tremendous performance in the gritty crime drama On the Waterfront. Often referred to as a “Method actor”, Brando set new standards in the art of film acting. He was actually a student of the Stanislavsky system of acting which means that he focused internally to portray his character’s emotions in a believable way. His portrayal of washed-up boxer turned dock worker Terry Malloy remains one of the finest acting performances in film history. Brando is correctly regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time with equally powerful performances in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Last Tango in Paris and The Godfather (both 1972). His performance is one of the many great things about On the Waterfront, a powerful drama from Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire) about union violence and corruption among longshoremen. The director readily identified with the oppressed people in America and knew exactly how to elicit amazing performances from his actors. He’s also a controversial figure among people in the film industry due to the testimony he gave before the HUAC (House Committee on Un-American Activities) in which he named people that allegedly had Communist ties. It was still a sore subject for some people when Kazan received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1999.

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 February 2013 20:40

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Gigi

gigi-movie-reviewGigi (1958)   MGM/Musical-Comedy   RT: 115 minutes   No MPAA Rating (mild thematic material, wine consumption)   Director: Vincente Minnelli   Screenplay: Alan Jay Lerner   Music: Frederick Loewe   Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg   Release date: May 15, 1958 (US)   Starring: Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold, Isabel Jeans, Eva Gabor, Jacques Bergerac, John Abbott.   Box Office: $13.2 million (US)    

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I tried to watch Gigi last year and couldn’t make it past the first hour or so. As a member of the male species, its appeal eluded me. In other words, it’s a total chick flick! This year, I managed to stay awake until the end. It’s a pretty good movie and while I may not agree that it’s Best Picture material, I can see why it took home the top award in addition to its eight other Academy Awards. Artistically and visually, it’s a triumph! Director Vincente Minnelli (An American in Paris) recreates the look and feel of turn-of-the century Paris perfectly. The costumes and sets are gorgeous; it’s truly an aesthetic wonder to behold. In terms of story, it’s merely a light romantic comedy in the vein of My Fair Lady. It’s as light as a soufflé and just about as satisfying. Gigi is the kind of movie that I’d imagine old ladies going to see at afternoon matinees while their husbands play cards at the local VFW hall.

Last Updated on Monday, 03 March 2014 20:32

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From Here to Eternity

from-here-to-eternity-revieFrom Here to Eternity (1953)   Columbia Pictures/Drama   RT: 118 minutes   No MPAA Rating (violence, mature themes, drunkenness)   Director: Fred Zinneman   Screenplay: Daniel Taradash   Music: George Duning   Cinematography: Burnett Guffey   Release date: August 5, 1953 (US)   Starring: Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine, Philip Ober, Jack Warden, Harry Bellaver, John Dennis, Merle Travis, Tim Ryan, George Reeves, Claude Akins, Alvin Sargent.   Box Office: $30.5 million (US)    

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Remember the scene in The Godfather when the Hollywood producer woke up to find a bloody horse’s head in his bed? It’s based on the rumor concerning how Frank Sinatra (with his alleged Mob connections) ultimately won the role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity. Director Fred Zinneman, as well as several cast and crew members, have dismissed this as completely false. The singer, at the lowest point in his career, lobbied for the role and even took a pay cut. It resulted in a Best Supporting Actor for Mr. Sinatra. I find stories like this interesting because they add an extra layer of drama to the overall viewing experience. However, From Here to Eternity is so great that it can stand on its own two legs. It’s drama at its most compelling with its story of soldiers stationed in Hawaii during the months leading to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As I watched this wonderful movie over the weekend, I found myself remembering a more recent movie dealing with the most significant historical event of the 20th century. Of course I’m referring to the abomination known as Pearl Harbor (2001) from Michael Bay (director) and Jerry Bruckheimer (producer). It dawned on me how Zinneman told a far more compelling story that his contemporary counterparts. From Here to Eternity is a perfect example of storytelling in that it emphasizes character and plot over special effects.

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 February 2013 20:41

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Chariots of Fire

chariotsoffire-reviewChariots of Fire (1981)   The Ladd Company/Drama   RT: 124 minutes   Rated PG (mild language)   Director: Hugh Hudson   Screenplay: Colin Welland   Music: Vangelis   Cinematography: David Watkin   Release date: October 9, 1981 (US)   Cast: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers, Ian Holm, John Gielgud, Lindsay Anderson, Cheryl Campbell, Alice Krige, Brad Davis, Dennis Christopher, Struan Rodger, Nigel Davenport, Patrick Magee, David Yelland, Peter Egan, Daniel Gerroll.   Box Office: $58.9 million (US)    

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Anybody who regards Chariots of Fire as a mere sports film is missing the point in a big way. While the action centers on two runners competing in the 1924 Olympics, the fact-based movie also deals with issues of class, race and religious devotion. It’s an exceptional film that doesn’t require the viewer to love, or even like, sports (which I don’t). I saw this amazing film, the surprise winner of the 1981 Best Picture Oscar, not long after it first came out. At the tender age of 14, I neither understood nor appreciated the film’s deeper meaning, but loved the aesthetics of it. The cinematography, editing and music- all incredible! Chariots of Fire is a beautifully-mounted film that uses running to make a statement about human nature. The two main characters use running as a means of proving themselves to the world around them. Each one has his own reasons for taking part in such a physically demanding endeavor. Harold Abrahams (Cross, First Knight) is the son of a Lithuanian Jew and all too familiar with anti-Semitism and being made to feel inferior.

Last Updated on Monday, 03 March 2014 20:31

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An American in Paris

american in paris reviewAn American in Paris (1951)   MGM/Musical-Romance   RT: 113 minutes   No MPAA Rating (nothing offensive)   Director: Vincente Minnelli   Screenplay: Alan Jay Lerner   Music: George and Ira Gershwin   Cinematography: Alfred Gilks   Release date: November 11, 1951 (US)   Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary, Nina Foch.   Box Office: $4.5 million (US)/$8 million (World)    

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I wasn’t alive when An American in Paris took home the Best Picture award, but I imagine that my reaction would have been the same as when Shakespeare in Love triumphed over Saving Private Ryan …. SAY WHAT?!!!! Vincente Minnelli’s light-hearted musical beat out stronger contenders like A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire. Another obvious candidate, The African Queen, wasn’t even nominated in that category. An American in Paris is a pleasant affair that’s as light as a soufflé. There’s no question that Gene Kelly makes any musical worth watching. That guy can dance! Hell, I even liked him in Xanadu (a guilty pleasure!). What I find interesting about An American in Paris is that NONE of it was actually shot in Paris. It was all filmed on a Hollywood soundstage as was the custom for many foreign-set movies of the time. In the capable hands of Minnelli, Paris takes on a rather surreal quality, most notably when the characters break into song and dance. An American in Paris is a good movie and I like it, but I hardly think that it’s Best Picture material. For me, Singin’ in the Rain (1952, also starring Kelly) is Best Picture material, but I guess the Academy and I don’t see eye-to-eye as it only received two nominations (Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Score).

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 February 2013 21:24

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