Sunday, April 24, 2016

My Darling Clementine

John Ford is the undisputed great when it comes to westerns. His collaborations with John Wayne are the ones that have stood the test of time. Sure, there have been the likes of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood in the years to come, but Ford is frequently the first name that comes to mind when westerns are concerned.

My Darling Clementine sometimes isn't held in the same regard as Stagecoach or The Searchers. (Probably because it doesn't star Wayne.) Perhaps it's because the film's easily the most human of the entire western genre, a trait seldom applied to others.

Being the first post-war production for both Ford and star Henry Fonda, My Darling Clementine also displays a sense of maturity frequently found in works from this time in Hollywood. Both established and emerging names were coming home from the war, and they wanted the movies they worked on to be real.

My Darling Clementine doesn't rely on the violence so much as other westerns did in the years to come. Instead, Ford focuses more on the myth of the Wild West as it slowly builds up to the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. (That's a detail you can only find in a Ford film.)

It doesn't take much to see that My Darling Clementine is another of Ford's many great films. Gorgeously shot by Joseph MacDonald, it's the kind of picture you need to see at least once in your lifetime.

My Rating: *****

Friday, April 22, 2016

Midnight Special

As proven by his previous films, Jeff Nichols has showcased his abilities as a director. With only three prior films to his name, Nichols proved his status as a rising name in Hollywood. (And no, he has no relation to the director of The Graduate.)

So how has Nichols' latest film Midnight Special fared? Indeed it has themes previously featured in his earlier work but they're under a different light here. (And it's clear that Nichols got a bigger budget for this.)

Much like Nichols' previous feature Mud, Midnight Special is set within the backroads of America, itself a character in its own right. And like Take Shelter (another Nichols title), it has Michael Shannon encountering things of an otherworldly nature. Nut again there's more to the film.

In a way, Midnight Special could be viewed as a metaphor for raising an autistic child. You have to protect that child with caution, making sure their surroundings don't harm them in any way. Now you may not see the film in this light but others might.

But overall, Midnight Special is lacking compared to the one-two punch of Take Shelter and Mud. The majority of its heft is in the second third and even then it doesn't feel like much. Hopefully Nichols' next film will be a touch better.

My Rating: ****

Eye in the Sky

What motivates us from going through a certain action? Is it our conscience that stops us? The lingering sense of guilt that follows in the aftermath? Whatever the reason, it's within human nature to have second thoughts before following through.

Gavin Hood's Eye in the Sky has this as its main theme. Revolving around drone warfare (hence the title), it focuses on the tough decisions one faces when at war. Is the effect of one action worth it as a result?

Similar to The Ox-Bow Incident decades earlier, Eye in the Sky lingers on the characters' consciences before and after their actions. Some view what they're doing as simply doing the right thing while others acknowledge that innocent lives are at stake. What matters is if their gut instincts are the right ones.

As is frequently the case for war-themed films, the cast of Eye in the Sky is solid. Featuring the likes of Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, the recently departed Alan Rickman, and Barkhad Abdi, Hood ensures that this quartet of actors delivers. And boy, they do.

Eye in the Sky is a very solid film though it does start to lose steam towards the end. Regardless of that detail, Hood does make a thoroughly effective thriller, the kind reminiscent of those from the Cold War era. In other words, it's worth a look for those curious.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Presenting Lily Mars

It's established pretty quickly in Norman Taurog's Presenting Lily Mars that the titular leading lady (Judy Garland) so wants to become an actress. Her persistence is so strong, she starts annoying director John Thornway (Van Helfin) to give her a chance. But will she succeed?

Much like A Star is Born the following decade, Presenting Lily Mars has Garland as the promising talent just waiting to be discovered. Of course suspicion of disbelief is in effect for both films since everyone by now knows of Garland's abilities as an entertainer. (C'est la vie, perhaps.)

And of course with this being a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios production, Presenting Lily Mars relies a bit more on the musical numbers than, well, anything else. (Hey, a little escapism doesn't hurt every now and again.) Though when the film does decide to focus on the plot, it's either hit or miss.

However, there is some good comedy within certain moments of Presenting Lily Mars. Both Helfin and Richard Carlson dish out their fair share of reaction shots. (Marta Eggerth meanwhile has a glare that could cut clean through you.) And Garland gets in on the comedy as well.

All in all though, Presenting Lily Mars isn't anything too remarkable. Yes, the actors have good chemistry but once you read the plotline, you can tell what path it'll be going down. It does provide some entertainment but not much.

My Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Golden Boy Blogathon

Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema is doing a blogathon on birthday boy William Holden. (Okay, she's been doing it for a few days but still.) My subject of choice? I decided to tackle Holden's three Oscar-nominated performances. Those performances (and whom he lost to) are:

(1950, dir. Billy Wilder)
Lost to José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac
(1953, dir. Billy Wilder)
(1976, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Lost to co-star Peter Finch

(More after the jump!)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Double Life

Actors tend to make for fascinating subjects in fiction. Their fears, their insecurities, all of those are on display for their unseen audience. What flaws of their do they keep hidden from the public eye?

George Cukor's A Double Life follows Anthony John (Ronald Colman) as he prepares for his next production: Othello. He earns rave reviews and the production's a success. But as more time wears on, it becomes clear to those around him that something's not right with Tony...

A Double Life was written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, the first of several collaborations between them and Cukor. Here, Gordon and Kanin dabble in the noir genre, exploring the complexities of the human psyche. (Certainly a far cry from Adam's Rib two years later.)

Now Othello plays a major role throughout A Double Life but that's not the only Shakespeare work that gets an allusion. At one point in the film, an element pulled straight from Hamlet is featured. To say what it is would give away other details of A Double Life.

A Double Life is definitely lesser-known Cukor though considering Colman won an Oscar for this (and rightly so), it deserves a look at least. Being released in a year of prominent titles like Black Narcissus and Odd Man Out, it's perhaps understandable that it's somewhat forgotten. Again, it deserves at least a look.

My Rating: ****

The Vikings

If there's one thing that 1950s Hollywood churned out more than flashy musicals, it's adventure-filled epics. The quality doesn't generally matter for this particular genre. All that matters is that it's entertaining and it has a star-studded cast.

Richard Fleischer's The Vikings certainly fulfills those two details but what else does it provide? Admittedly not much else but hey, it was released the same year as Vertigo and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It had to find a way to stand out somehow.

Well, having the likes of Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh certainly helps. Though it becomes pretty clear that this quartet of performers had their own interpretations of the script. Douglas bellows most of his lines, Curtis and Borgnine saw it as just another paycheck, and Leigh delivers her lines with a little too much conviction. (That's show business for you.)

Though there is one perk of The Vikings: cinematography by Jack Cardiff. As he proved with various Powell-Pressburger productions the previous decade, Cardiff captures some images that are basically indelible from the viewer's mind. (Having the film shot in Norway certainly helped.)

But overall The Vikings isn't anything too remarkable. (It's no Spartacus, that's for sure.) Some of the dialogue is just cheesy beyond belief (and some of the musical cues don't help either). Still, it does provide some amusement through the (admittedly cheaply choreographed) sword fights. (Though if you want to see a Fleischer picture with more merit to it, then see The Boston Strangler.)

My Rating: ***1/2