Category Archives: Oldies but goldies

Decades Blogathon – The Battle Of Algiers (1966)

Here’s my contribution to Decades Blogathon, hosted by Mark from https://threerowsback.com and Tom from http://digitalshortbread.com/
Thank you guys!!

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1966

Welcome to another day of the event of the year: the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and for Super Tuesday it’s the turn of Marta from Ramblings of a Cinephile, who turns her sights on the masterpiece that is The Battle Of Algiers (1966).

The gritty and rather bloody story of the uprising that led to the independence of Algeria in 1962 is shot by Gillo Pontecorvo in a compelling style.

Commissioned by the Algerian government less than a decade after the facts, it shows both sides in an unforgiving way – from the terrorist attacks of the Algerian militants to the tortures of the French army. Pontecorvo…

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Oldies but goldies: Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Director: Billy Wilder; Main Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von StroheimNancy Olson;

sunset-boulevard

I have always liked films about the movie industry; whether it’s the making of a film, the life of a director or actor, the politics and troubles of producing, I find it fascinating. This great classic, written and directed by Billy Wilder, has it all: a once famous actress wanting to come back to the limelights, a struggling b-movie writer and the almighty studios of the golden era of Hollywood; above all it has some really great lines.

The story, set in 1950s, revolves around Joe Gillis (Holden), a small-time screenwriter, and Norma Desmond (Swanson), a silent-film goddess who lives like a recluse in a crumbling mansion on Sunset Boulevard. She still desperately believes in her star power and undying fame, indulged and protected by her butler Max (von Stroheim), who was once her director and husband. Norma is dreaming her return to the pictures, resigning herself to be in a talkie. Norma is writing a film about Salome and her chance encounter with Joe is an additional spur to her delusions; enticing him with the prospect of script work she puts him up in her mansion. Joe becomes ever more involved and entangled in Norma’s life, he is her lover/gigolo and he is fascinated and repulsed by it at the same time. The drama spirals out into insanity and violence closing the circle of the narration.

Holden and Swanson are both superb and play off each others perfectly. They bring to life their characters with great skills, giving nuanced performances that will grip your attention and won’t let go. Wilder’s script is sharp and riveting and it is interesting (also a bit ironic) for a film about writers and, in particular writing film, to say: “We didn’t need dialogue! We had faces!”.  Wilder uses an effective approach: he starts the movie at the end of the tale with a voiceover of Joe telling his story before his death (Sam Mendes will adopt exactly the same structure for American Beauty!). Disquieting and mesmerizing —8.5/10

This is my entry to The Golden Boy Blogathon hosted by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema. Check all the other contributions here:

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Oldies but goldies: Il Gattopardo (1963)

Director: Luchino Visconti; Main Cast: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia CardinalePaolo StoppaRomolo Valli;

Gattopardo

In this sumptuous and luscious adaptation of the eponymous novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Visconti paints a rich portrait of Sicily during the war of independence in 1860 and the following years, bringing to life Prince Fabrizio (Lancaster) and his family and retainers.  In a period of political and social upheaval Fabrizio Cordero, Prince of Salina, refuses to take sides while his young and dashing nephew, Tancredi (Delon) Prince of Falconieri, joins Garibaldi and his volunteers to free Sicily from the Bourbons and be part of the newly created kingdom of Italy. The two characters embody the dichotomy of old and new: Fabrizio represents the fading aristocracy while Tancredi, who is smart and ambitious, is the emerging ruling class.

Prince Fabrizio is cynical and jaded but also proud of his name and family and attached to tradition. He is torn between upholding the continuity of upper class values, and breaking tradition to secure continuity of his family’s influence. On the other hand, Tancredi sees right away the need for the aristocracy to adapt and transform itself in order to be influential when the new order is established. As a mean to this end he fights on the side of the revolutionary (later joining the regular Savoy army) and starts courting Angelica (Cardinale), beautiful daughter of Don Calogero Sedara (Stoppa), nouveau riche and newly elected mayor of Donnafugata (small town near the Salina estate).

The film follows quite faithfully the book, keeping as main theme the struggle between mortality and decay (death, fading of beauty, fading of memories, change of political system.) and abstraction and eternity (the prince’s love for the stars and calculations, continuity and resilience to change of the Sicilian people). Burt Lancaster’s brilliant and nuanced performance (the best of his career) is what makes it really work, lavish and rich costumes and settings notwithstanding, and Delon and Cardinale are perfect and stunningly beautiful in their roles.

The most memorable sequence is the ball when Angelica is officially presented as Tancredi’s fiancee and the most memorable quote (directly from the book) is:  Things will have to change in order that they remain the same (said by Prince Fabrizio)Spectacular and captivating —9/10

This post is part of the Beyond the Cover – Books to Film Blogathon organised by Now Voyaging and Speakeasy. Go and check all the great posts out in this blogathon:

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Network (1976): January Blind Spot

Director: Sidney Lumet; Main Cast: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter FinchRobert DuvallNed Beatty;

Network

Television is indeed a cut-throat world. Network and corporate executives exploit the mental break-down of a veteran news anchorman for the sake of ratings and monetary return. Summarised in this way, the film sounds like a jaded, cynic view of TV news in the seventies but it is so much more! It manages to introduce some surreal elements into a serious and realistic narrative that becomes one of the harshest criticism of television, entertainment and business world. Furthermore it uncannily predicts what happens to television in the next forty years: reality shows, exploitation of the worst gory events to improve ratings and such. Faye Dunaway show a wonderful combination of fanatical glee, workaholism and sheer determination as Diana Christensen, the producer who takes the reins of the news section of the network. She replaces Max Shumacher (Holden), an old-timer with integrity and also personal friend of Howard Beale (Finch), the anchorman in question. Beale’s ravings are illuminating and still actual (and downright hilarious) and Finch is fantastic to watch, no wonder he has got an Oscar for this role. To add more quality to an already stellar cast there’s Robert Duvall as Frank Hackett, face of the corporation, that recently bought the network, and ultimate shot-caller. His character might come across as one-dimensional, only driven by quarterly returns and stockholders’ expectations but Duvall manages to imbue him with some vulnerability that makes him more credible. The heart of the film is Holden’s Max: a man who is going towards his twilight years and finds himself fired, rather unceremoniously. He is viewed by Hackett as the past in TV news and he is considered both expendable and a threat to the network. All of this because Max refuses to use his friend Howard as freak-show to be paraded in front of millions of people. Max is the only silver lining of the film: someone who clings to his humanity (both the good and the bad) and doesn’t surrender and turn into a humanoid like Diana. Lumet’s directing is flawless and inspired and Paddy Chayefsky’ s script is pure gold. My favorite scenes are: Arthur Jensen’s (Beatty) speech about the primal forces of Nature and the contract negotiation between the far-left-wing revolutionaries, the communist activist and the network representatives; both are hilarious and amazing. Riveting —9/10

 

This is my first entry to The Matinee‘s Blind Spot blogathon. So far so good!

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Oldies but goldies: Plein Soleil (1960)

Director: René Clément; Main Cast: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Laforêt;

plein-soleil

Handsome but penniless Tom Ripley (Delon) has been tasked by wealthy Mr. Greenleaf to bring back home to San Francisco his wayward son Philippe (Ronet), who is gallivanting around Italy.  Philippe is living large with his girlfriend Marge (Laforet) in Naples and the audience finds Tom tagging along and being Philippe’s buddy and occasional virtual punching bag. Philippe is good looking, viveur and self-confident, his money gives him the freedom that Tom doesn’t have. It’s obvious since the beginning that Tom is both attracted to and envious of Philippe, we can see him clearly thinking: ” I can be like him, I just need money!”. On the other hand, Philippe is intrigued by Tom’s many talents but repulsed by his lowly social standing and the creepy vibes he gives off. Tom’s meekness and subservient attitude seems to excite Philippe’s mean streak to the point that even Marge takes Tom’s defense. The tension gradually builds up while the strain on the relationship between these three characters grows, all in great contrast with the beautiful scenery of Southern Italy. This adds a somewhat sinister twist to reassuring surroundings and the scenes on the sailing boat become almost claustrophobic. As Tom’s hope of obtaining the reward Philippe’s father has promised fades, his fantasies of riches and easy life coalesce into a much darker plan to gain what he wants. The second half of the film revolves around Tom’s schemes and maneuvers to keep his dream alive, not letting anything gets in his way. Clement adapts skillfully this story of envy, deceit and delusion of grandeur based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. His expert use of the blazing white and blue of Italian summer and the lovely settings in Naples and Rome brings an additional layer to the unfolding drama. The cast delivers solid performances, Alain Delon is a perfect embodiment of Tom with the right mix of charm and slyness. The only point that raised involuntary laughters was Marie Laforet’s crying scene, similar to every display of sorrow by any Disney princess. This is a very minor flaw that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the film. In comparison to the more recent adaptation, this is a far superior movie with a better and more convincing casting.  Dazzling —7.5/10

This is my entry to the The Beach Party Blogathon hosted by Silver Screening and Speakeasy. Ruth and Kristina will keep the party going all week, go and check their blogs!

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Oldies but goldies: State of the Union (1948)

state-of-the-union

Director: Frank Capra; Main Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Van JohnsonAngela LansburyAdolphe Menjou;

Formidable Kay Thorndyke (Lansbury) has a mind to use her clout as important press publisher to convince the Republicans to nominate her lover, Grant Matthews (Tracy),  a principled industrialist, as the presidential candidate to the 1948 elections. After the first, small hurl of convincing Grant himself that he would be a great President, for which Kay enlists Jim Conover (Menjou), eminence grise of the party, and Spike McManus (Johnson), political journalist and campaign expert, the next big step is to obtain his wife’s support. Mary (Hepburn) should join her husband on the campaign trail for the primaries to help sell the image of wholesome family man. Up to this point, Hepburn’s character has not been seen yet, but it comes out as an outspoken and strong woman, which is fully confirmed by her sudden arrival and settling in in a whirlwind of talk and action. The perfect description of this introductory scene is the exchange between Spike and Kay while she stealthily goes out:

Kay: Has she moved in there?

Spike: She established a beachhead!

What follows is Grant’s journey, both physical and spiritual, in which he slowly compromises himself to win over the party delegates while he loses the admiration and respect of his wife and the common people. The best angels of his nature will in the end prevail (of course!) and he will regains his self-respect and the love of his wife. This is the only film in which the talents of Capra, Hepburn and Tracy are joined and it’s also the first one that tells a story about political campaigning and the complex mechanism and back room maneuvers of American power. It’s both a captivating and mordant tale that sapiently blends the tones of comedy, of satire and human drama, in Capra’s unique style. The script is simply brilliant and it’s one of the stronger points of the film: witty and touching at the same time. Clearly the cast has a lot to sink their teeth in and they all give solid performances. Tracy has three outstanding monologues, but Hepburn has amazingly sassy rejoinders that make her a scene stealer. My favorite of all is: ” No woman could ever run for President. She’d have to admit she’s over 35″. Inspiring —8.5/10

This post is my contribution to The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon (2015 edition, my last year entry can be found here), organised by the lovely Margaret of  margaretperry.org. Go to her site to read all the other amazing entries to this blogaton:

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Oldies but goldies: The Molly Maguires (1970)

The-Molly-Maguires

Director: Martin Ritt; Main Cast: Sean Connery, Richard Harris, Samantha EggarFrank Finlay;

Martin Ritt takes us back to 1876 and the harsh life of Irish immigrants in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He focuses on the social drama of the early struggles between workers and company owners and, in particular, on the rather violent methods adopted by both sides. Written and co-produced by Walter Bernstein, this film is based on a novel by Arthur H. Lewis. We follow the actions of Jack Kehoe (Connery) and James McParland (Harris): the former a hardened worker and leader of the titular secret society, the latter an undercover detective of the Pinkerton agency, employed by the local police to infiltrate and unmask the Mollies. In a stunning opening scene of almost fifteen minutes, without any dialogue, we are made acquainted with the grueling work of the miners and the trenchant approach of the Mollies to battling exploitation. I must add that the score by Henry Mancini is not only very effective in the opening scene but a nice complement to the whole film. We meet then James McKenna (McParland’s undercover identity), new in town and looking for a job in the mine, of course his first stop is at the pub for a pint and a brawl (there will be more of both down the line), the Irish way to present oneself as a potential friend? Well, it works… sort of… slowly but surely James gets closer to Jack and in the inner circle of the Mollies. At times, the viewer might doubt where his loyalty really lies (kudos to Harris for playing very well the ambiguity) since James and Jack are both  working class immigrants from Ireland with essentially the same aspiration: advancement in this new society. In the end, however, the law will prevail but it is a sour victory, James is left with the weight of his betrayal, although he tries his best to shake it off and justify it as a mean to an end. It was promoted more as a Connery’s film since he was fresh from his stint as 007 but, to me, this is a Harris’ film, he has the lion share of the story and the acting chops to carry it. The supporting cast is solid and Ritt has some inspired directing choices. To add more Irish flavour to the tale there aren’t only pints and bar brawls but a heated rugby match and a few traditional songs in the score (played with period instruments), so it makes for a perfect St. Patrick’s day film if you are not looking for light entertainment. Satisfying —7.5/10

This is my contribution to The Luck of the Irish Blog o’thon hosted by Diana & Connie at Silver Scenes, you can read all the other entries here:

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Oldies but goldies: Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Ivans-childhood

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky; Main Cast: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Evgeniy ZharikovStepan KrylovNikolay Grinko;

Tarkovsky’s first feature film is a rather bleak account of the final year of World War II on the Russian front. The main point of view is not a soldier but a 12-year-old boy, Ivan (Burlyaev), whose life has been ravaged by the German invasion. We find Ivan working as a military scout, infiltrating behind enemy lines and then reporting back information on Nazi positions and movements. He is collected by a sentry after a long swim across a river and delivered to young Lieutenant Galtsev (Zharikov), who, at first, doesn’t believe him to be a scout, being just a boy. Galtsev discovers that Ivan has been taken under the wing by Captain Kholin (Zubkov), his subaltern Katasonov (Krylov) and also his superior Lt. Colonel Gryaznov (Grinko), all of whom would love nothing more than to send him away to safety to a military school. Unfortunately Ivan is hell-bent on revenge against the Nazis and wants only to be part of the war effort, either with the army or with the partisans. Kholin and Gryaznov can only accept his stubbornness and plan the next recon mission, across the same river, in preparation for the Russian offensive. Ivan is carried on a dinghy by Kholin and Galtsev, with the favor of the night and some luck, and then left on the German shore to proceed on his own. It will be the last time Kholin and Galtsey will see him. The film then moves on to the end of the war and the epilogue of the story, seen through Galtsev’s eyes. Tarkosky’s inspired shots and Vadim Yudov’s cinematography perfectly depict the grimness of the life on the front, juxtaposing it with peaceful and beautiful scenery (I’ve never seen a birch wood so enchanting!). The contrast between Ivan’s dreams and his present life is also rendered very well, and I appreciated water as recurring element in both, maybe symbol of connection and, at the same time, separation. Although not for light entertainment, this film is captivating and original, I would say that, along with Battleground, it is the most candid representation of events during World War II, without any glamour or over the top heroics. Unrelenting and gripping —8/10

This post is my contribution to the Russia in classic films blogathon, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently. You can read all the other entries here:

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Oldies but goldies: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Director:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Main Cast: Elizabeth TaylorKatharine HepburnMontgomery Clift;

suddenly-last-summer

Doctor Cukrowicz (Clift) is a young and capable neurosurgeon, recently arrived at the Lions View Hospital in New Orleans from Chicago. He is developing an experimental treatment for mental illnesses: lobotomy, considered a rather cutting-edge (pun intended) and effective approach in 1937. Having read about him in the newspaper, Mrs Violet Venable (Hepburn), a wealthy and well known widow, summons the good doctor to her house and presses him into using his surgeon’s skills on her disturbed niece, Cathy (Taylor),  who is currently residing at a private facility for the mentally ill. The board is set for this family drama to unfold, the viewer will slowly discover more details about Violet and Cathy along with the Doc and, naturally, there is a deep, dark secret that will be uncovered at the end. In this character-driven film, deftly directed by Mankiewicz, women have the lion’s share: Hepburn and Taylor are both brilliant and give spellbinding interpretations. Violet makes a very striking entrance, coming down in an open elevator, all wrapped in white and talking fondly about her son Sebastian, the poet. The audience learns about gifted, charming Sebastian who died, suddenly, the previous summer in Spain, while travelling with his cousin Cathy. The latter came back rather “unhinged” and with an amnesia about what exactly happened to Sebastian. She is committed to a facility and basically held there because of her unseemly tales about Sebastian, which Violet finds disquieting. We also detect a simmering anger and jealousy in Violet, since she had an unsound, possessive, co-dependent relationship with her son and she resents and holds Cathy responsible for what occurred. The doctor is caught up between these two strong women and seems a bit lost at times, mostly due to Clift’s portrayal, very subdued and lacking the necessary clout and charisma. The story is moved forward through what it would be considered today an excess of dialogue, which is understandable being an adaptation of a play by Williams, but I think it works very well and it helps in shaping all-round characters. The only complaint about the film could be about not using enough the visual medium as a way to tell the story, although Mankiewicz made some interesting choices for the final monologue that I found very effective. Riveting —7.5/10
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This post is part of the Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Margaret Perry, read all the other interesting contributions here:

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Oldies but goldies: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Director:  John FordMain Cast: James StewartJohn WayneVera MilesLee MarvinEdmond O’Brien;

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“A James Stewart picture must have two vital ingredients: it will be clean and it will involve the triumph of the underdog over the bully” is what the man himself once said and it is a very apt description of this classic film directed by John Ford. Although, canonically, this feature has always been considered a western, it doesn’t have any of its typical trademarks: no shots of the landscape, lack of horse rides, lack of proper gunfights and not a real bar scene. The movie opens with one lead as an old man, even if arrived and very well-respected, and the other one dead, just a pinewood box, also quite atypical. It has more of a post-western vibe: a bleak, claustrophobic black and white tale, with so many enclosed sets and no open range scenery. Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) is a State senator who comes back, with his wife Hallie (Miles), to Shinbone for the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The newspaper men have never heard of him, so why would such a powerful political figure visit the town to attend this funeral of a “nobody”? Through a flashback, Stoddard tells them the tale of how he came to town and met Tom. It is the story of a young lawyer full of hope in the progress of the nation and its laws, who goes west to be part of this civilization’s process, reminding me a quote from Dances With Wolves: “You wish to see the frontier? Yes sir, before it’s gone”. Unfortunately he has to face the hard truth: there the law of the gun is the only one truly respected. This lesson is taught right away by Liberty Valance (Marvin), ruthless gunslinger, who robs the stagecoach and beats him to a pulp for trying to defend a woman. Ransom is rescued by Tom and then he finds help and shelter at the Ericsons’ restaurant, where he meets Hallie. Not having a penny to his name but being a resourceful man, Ransom works in the kitchen of the restaurant to pay for bed and board and later starts also working for the local newspaper and teaching children and adults alike to read and write. Ransom is very vocal about upholding the law and fighting the local ruffians by arresting them and not settling matters with a gun but the town’s marshal is not a coeur-de-lion and Tom has a different opinion. In the midst of all this there is also a political issue: the territory is vying for statehood and Ransom ends up as town’s representative, instead of Valance. The latter keeps terrorising the community, he destroys the local newspaper office and brutally attacks the editor (O’Brien). Ransom calls him out, though the conclusion is not quite as straightforward as legend would have it. One very interesting thing about this film is Ford’s approach to violence. The most gruesome acts are never shown directly, the camera is pointed to the perpetrator and the audience sees only the result afterwards. It is a deliberate choice and an effective one, which increases the senselessness of it all. Everything considered, the movie is well acted (special kudos to Marvin and O’Brien), skillfully written and provides a complex and multi-layered analysis of legends and facts: is living a lie as a successful man better or worse than quietly dying as a hero? “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. It is noteworthy to consider that for most of the film Ransom is a man in his late twenties/early thirties while Stewart at the time was in his mid-fifties (and Wayne as well), not exactly a spring chicken, but still he is quite believable in his role. Remarkable and riveting —8.5/10

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This post is part of the James Stewart Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. You can view the complete blogathon schedule here:

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Oldies but goldies: True Grit (1969)

Director: Henry Hathaway, Main Cast: John WayneKim DarbyGlen CampbellJeff CoreyRobert Duvall;

true-grit-1969

Mattie Ross (Darby) is determined to find her father’s killer, Tom Chaney (Corey), and see that justice is served. Being a resourceful, determined girl, she hires Rooster Cogburn (Wayne), a U.S marshal, who has true grit and a reputation for getting the job done. This unlikely pair is joined by Texas ranger La Boeuf (Campbell), who is chasing the same man for murdering a Texan senator. They start out from Fort Smith, Arkansas, and venture deep into the Indian Territory, where most outlaws seek refuge. A chance encounter with two of Ned Pepper’s (Duvall) men, a notorious bandit, put them on the right track. On a side note, it is interesting to see Denis Hopper in a small supporting role the same year in which Easy Rider was released, another proof of his versatility. The odd trio lie in wait to ambush Ned’s gang, hoping to catch Chaney as well, but luck is not on their side. Rooster’s knowledge of Ned and of the lay of the land will eventually lead them to their quarry but justice will come at a high price. There is a good on-screen chemistry between Darby and Wayne that sells quite well the story, notwithstanding the incredibly wooden performance of Campbell. The portrayal of Rooster is often celebrated as one of the best among Wayne’s roles and rightly so. He manages to complete disappear in his character and bring an artful mix of grumpiness, gumption and good-heartedness. Already in his sixties and rather portly, Wayne channels strength and make this drunken, beaten man believable as a hardened marshal, even if he looks a bit stiff climbing up or down his horse. I must confess that watching American western films from the 50s and 60s always leaves me baffled by the excess of cleanness and neatness of the people and their clothes, I have seen too many spaghetti western and post-western movies not to find it a little weird. I couldn’t help but notice Mattie’s perfectly manicured hands, her nylon stockings or the fact that no one is ever sweaty, scruffy or, god forbid, cover with dust! Anyway it is still a very enjoyable film. Entertaining —7/10

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This post is part of the Diamonds & Gold blogathon hosted by Caftan Woman and Wide Screen World, so please have a look at reviews of other great films with memorable performances of actors and actresses into their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond:

 

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Oldies but goldies: This Sporting Life (1963)

Director: Lindsay Anderson, Main Cast: Richard Harris, Rachel RobertsColin BlakelyAlan BadelVanda Godsell;

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This beautifully shot drama made in 1963 is a perfect example of kitchen sink realism i.e. the British New Wave. Set in Yorkshire, it tells the story of Frank Machin (Harris), a bitter young man who works in a coal mine but dreams of better things. Anderson uses a flashback-narrative for the first half of the film, with a bold cutting style, mixing Frank’s past and present in an effective and haunting way. The viewer learns how he succeeds at a try-out for the Wakefield rugby team, making quite an impression with his ruthless and aggressive style of playing, so much that the owner, Gerald Weaver (Bendel) signs him up in the top team as loose forward. It is also clear that, unlike his sporting life, Frank’s personal life is not so great, he is clearly in love with his recently widowed landlady, Mrs. Margaret Hammond (Roberts), but she treats him rather coldly and doesn’t think much of him. This attitude is an additional spur that pushes Frank to improve his social status and  to obtain the things he wants. Unfortunately for him, life is far more complicated than rugby, although the director appears to suggest a parallel between mining and playing: both are harsh, dirty and consuming. While things seem improving with Margaret, Frank starts to have problems with the team’s management, in particular Mr. Weaver, they do not appreciate his cocky attitude and his recklessness on the field. This happens, purely coincidentally (yeah sure!), right after Frank refuses Mrs. Weaver’s (Godsell) advances, who is not only a predatory woman but also a vindictive one. Naturally nothing will end well, Frank will be left only with his sporting life (which, of course, won’t last very long), vulnerable to the ravages of time and injury. Harris portraits Frank with the right mix of angst, vulnerability, smugness and violence, he gives us a touching and convincing performance that really makes the film. All the scenes between Frank and Margaret are tense, charged with what is not said or done, making this story of amour fou real and believable, the terrible fate of wanting something unattainable. Impressive and gut-wrenching —8/10

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Oldies but goldies: Witness For The Prosecution (1957)

Director: Billy Wilder, Main Cast: Tyrone PowerMarlene DietrichCharles LaughtonElsa Lanchester

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Based on an Agatha Christie’s story, this courtroom drama is wonderfully directed and co-written by Billy Wilder. Aging Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton), barrister of the Crown and champion of hopeless cases, has just returned home from the hospital, when a fellow lawyer brings him Leonard Vole (Power), a young man soon to be accused of murder. Along with Sir Wilfrid we learn more about Vole and Mrs. French, the rich widow who has been killed, from the man himself and his German wife Christine (Dietrich), his only alibi. Wilder uses flashbacks quite effectively to show how Leonard met the victim and what kind of relationship they had. The audience at this point will dismiss Vole as a harmless but charming opportunist, and regard Christine as the most intriguing character so far: controlled, aloof and worldly; she is the one who, after all, really convinces Sir Wilfrid to take her husband’s case. The action moves into the the courtroom and the viewer is rewarded with priceless banter between the prosecution and the defense, dripping dry British humor, and utterly enjoyable. As is Agatha Christie’s wont, we witness setbacks for the defense, some juicy twists and a final big reveal (which I will not spoil for first-time viewers). I must say that Laughton and Dietrich are the ones who make the movie, they bring their characters to life with all their lights and shadows and display an undeniable talent and attention to details. Special kudos go to Elsa Lanchester as Sir Wilfrid’s nurse, she brings a light touch and comic relief that well balances the grim tone of the tale. Wilder crafts the story so well, without lulls or dull moments, and turns this film in a remarkable work of art, that remains a pleasure to revisit even after several viewings. Enthralling —9/10

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This post is part of Sleuthathon, a blogathon hosted by Movies Silently, so please have a look at reviews of other great films about mysteries, detectives and the likes featured there:

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Oldies but goldies: Aliens (1986, extended version)

Director: James Cameron, Main Cast: Sigourney WeaverMichael BiehnCarrie HennLance HenriksenBill Paxton;

aliens

The extended version of this film is what Cameron really envisioned  for his chapter of Ripley’s story, in other words it is a director’s cut (duh!). We discover more details about her personal history and understand better her behaviour as events unfold. The story picks up where the first movie ended (see my review of Alien here) or at least in Ripley’s time frame. In real time 57 years have passed and there are terraforming engineers on the planet where the Nostromo’s crew landed and caught a bug (pun intended!). Anyway everything was going splendidly for those hundreds of families until the Company sent them looking for something unspecified, after Ripley’s debrief and dismissal. Lost contact with the colony, the Company is sending the big guns: colonial marines. They want also Ripley to go along as a consultant and she is kind of ambivalent (no kidding!), suffering from PTSD as a result of her previous close encounter. This time the damn cat stays at home though, less casualties this way (yeah, if only!), good thinking Ripley! So we are back to chasing monsters (plural this time, as the film’s title suggests) in dark corridors but with more appropriate weapons and training, as it turns out: it is not enough. Panic-inducing close-ups of closing sliding doors, flashlights in the dark and the good, old, anxiogenic motion detector are swell companions of a well-paced story, effective action scenes and a pretty great characterisation. The body count is still off the chart but, hey, with the cat around it would have been far worse. Bonus: anything that comes out of Hudson’s mouth (Bill Paxton) is gold and Michael Biehn’s character doesn’t die. Just brilliant —8.5/10

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In case you like spoofs, parodies or plain logic, this is quite fun:

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Oldies but goldies: Alien (1979, director’s cut)

Director: Ridley Scott, Main Cast:  Sigourney WeaverTom SkerrittJohn HurtIan Holm;

alien

This film is a classic for both sci-fi and horror genres and it stands the test of time splendidly! The director’s cut includes additional footage that gives more insights about some characters and the creature. The lighting, the claustrophobic yet desolate shots, the futuristic design that now seems almost quaint, the little details: from the cigarette’s smoke to eating cereals to workers’ rights, we know it all and saw it a million times but it all appears in this film for the first time and made it a classic. On its way back from a routine trip a freight spaceship intercepts a distress signal from an unknown planet, the crew is awakened and sent to investigate: they will find something unexpected and terribly dangerous that will pick them off one by one! The motion detector is as efficient as John Williams’ two notes in Jaws in being anxiogenic and panic-inducing. One lesson learned from this movie: if there’s a big, human-eating monster up and about don’t go looking for the cat, he will be fine,  it’s your safety you should worry about! Amazing —9/10

 

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Oldies but goldies: Groundhog Day (1993)

Director: Harold Ramis, Main Cast: Bill MurrayAndie MacDowellChris Elliott;

groundhog-day

Phil Connors (Murray) is a weatherman at a local TV station and for the past few years he’s been tasked to cover the “groundhog day” in Punxsutawney, PA, where the local “celebrity”, Phil the groundhog, gives prediction about the winter. Phil (not the groundhog, who’s a cutie) is arrogant, obnoxious and very self-centered and he thinks the trip is a waste of his remarkable talent and he takes it out on people, in particular his cameraman Larry (Elliott) and, occasionally, even Rita, his cute and kind producer (MacDowell). Phil goes through the motions hoping to be out of Punxsutawney asap but a terrible blizzard prevent them to leave and Phil wakes up and… it’s groundhog day again! Well, I might say, it never gets old to see the evolution of Phil, doomed/cursed to relive over and over again the same day with the same people doing the same things. At the beginning he uses this time-loop to his advantage (or so he thinks), then he feels lost and hopeless and, finally, he takes it as an opportunity to improve himself and do things for others. Bill Murray is a joy to watch and the script is just great. Delightful —7/10

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Oldies but goldies: Gallipoli (1981)

Director: Peter Weir, Main Cast: Mel GibsonMark LeeBill Kerr;

gallipoli

A story of friendship and the futility of war. Archy (Mark Lee) and Frank (Mel Gibson), two young Western Australians, are both gifted sprinters who meet at a competition and become friends trying to reach Perth in 1915. Archy is an idealist who wants to fight in the war while Frank is more pragmatic and sees no point in joining the army and going to Europe. However he changes his mind and decides to enlist while helping Archy, who is underage, to lie his way into the light cavalry. Frank doesn’t make the cut and ends up in the infantry. The two friends are separated but meet again in Turkey after Frank leaves the infantry’s “boot camp” in Egypt. They become acquainted with the harsh reality of war while witnessing the senseless massacre of their fellow soldiers. Frank is assigned to be a runner, unbeknown to him after Archy’s recommendation to their CO,  in order to keep communicating with the central command once the main attack begins. As in all wars there is sacrifice and loss, well portrayed by this film’s ending. The cinematography is entrancing, the story moves with a nice pace and it is enthralling. The actors are well cast and very convincing, Mark Lee most of all I must say, and you get the best pep talk in movie’s history! Riveting —8/10

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Oldies but goldies: Jurassic Park (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg, Main Cast: Sam NeillLaura DernJeff GoldblumRichard AttenboroughSamuel L. Jackson;

jurassic-park

A classic sci-fi movie that withstand the test of time. Spielberg nicely mixes adventure, suspense, humor and pretty amazing special effects. Even after many viewings I still get the chills when the water in the glass starts to tremble, he has this knack for announcing when something bad is coming that’s unique, as we have learned since we heard  Jaws’ theme the first time. As usual a dreamer creates something that’s not supposed to be…like living dinosaurs…and then the shit hits the fan because of greed (naturally!) and scientists…guess what?…screw up! The cast doesn’t drop the ball and the film is a great ride. —8/10

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Oldies but goldies: Clerks (1994)

Director: Kevin Smith, Main Cast: Brian O’HalloranJeff AndersonMarilyn GhigliottiJason MewesKevin Smith;

clerks

Kevin Smith’s first effort is brilliantly written and it is the platonic ideal of an indie film. For Dante (O’Halloran), a clerk at a convenience store, his day off will turn out to be a day to forget, to regret and to remember.  The banter and discussions between Dante and Randal (Anderson), Dante’s best friend who works at the adjacent video store, are just priceless! My personal favorite is the one about the independent contractors working on the second Death Star in the Return of the Jedi. The film has a nice pace and never a dull moment. It also introduces two of the most memorable characters in the history of indie movies: Jay and Silent Bob (Mewes and Smith). They provide random comic relief (additional, I might say) in between scenes with Jay’s uncouth outbursts and Bob’s single pearl of wisdom. All considered, the film is a rare treat! —8.5/10

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Oldies but goldies: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Director: Robert Rodriguez, Main Cast:  Harvey KeitelGeorge ClooneyJuliette LewisQuentin TarantinoSalma Hayek;

from-dusk-till-dawn

First credited collaboration of Rodriguez with Tarantino (the first at the helm, the second at the writing desk) and a brilliant mash-up of genres: action/thriller and vampire splatter horror. In perfect Tarantino’s style the first part is extreme violence (the ordinary, “it’s a wolf eats wolf world” type) and verbal incontinence. The opening scene is a pearl, great introduction of characters! So the pace is set for a action/thriller and when you get comfortable and start to enjoy the ride..bam! Everything goes topsy-turvy and you are in a splatter horror with tons of vampires and an incredible body count. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, aficionados of the two genres might not like it but if you like Tarantino is a must-see movie. Suggested as an antidote to the excess of sugary films that will start to flood the cinemas but especially TV during the upcoming holiday season. —8/10

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