365 day movie challenge 2014

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #129: Stagecoach (1939) - dir. John Ford

This classic Western stars some of my favorite famous faces: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Andy Devine (also one of my favorite voices), John Carradine (perhaps looking more like John Hawkes here than ever), Thomas Mitchell, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, Tim Holt, Tom Tyler, Jack Pennick (an uncredited bartender - once you’ve seen his teeth, you don’t forget them). The film is excellently directed by John Ford and photographed very nicely by Bert Glennon, especially in the climactic stagecoach/Native Americans/shootout scene (which also benefits from the editing by Otho Lovering and Dorothy Spencer). If you are as fascinated by John Ford’s visions of America as I am, then you definitely should see this film.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #243: Three Came Home (1950) - dir. Jean Negulesco

This is a good World War II drama, although it drags a bit. Claudette Colbert is in fine form here, as is Sessue Hayakawa. Patric Knowles is barely in the movie and doesn’t do much when he’s there anyway. Florence Desmond is OK as Colbert’s friend in the prison camp. Mark Keuning is terribly irritating as the young son of Colbert and Knowles. There’s some good cinematography by Milton R. Krasner and an uncredited William H. Daniels. The film would probably be of the most interest to WWII buffs and/or big fans of Claudette Colbert. Otherwise, you might not like it as much as Colbert’s romantic comedies.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #120: Shadows (1959) - dir. John Cassavetes

This was a great choice for a free MoMA movie screening (well, free for me, anyway) on a rainy afternoon. The cinematography by Erich Kollmar and the jazzy score by Charles Mingus perfectly capture the Beat feel of the film. The images of Ben Carruthers, shoulders slightly hunched, walking down New York streets wearing his dark glasses, are unforgettable. Lelia Goldoni, whom I have always noticed popping up in 70s films like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More, The Day of the Locust and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, plays both sides of her role well. Hugh Hurd is effective as their brother, while Anthony Ray (who was about to marry ex-stepmom Gloria Grahame) is effective as Goldoni’s brief love interest; the film also features good appearances from Dennis Sallas and Tom Reese as museum-going guys, David Pokitillow as Goldoni’s former boyfriend, Rupert Crosse as Hurd’s manager and David Jones as Goldoni’s new love interest. Overall I think it’s a pretty good little movie that makes for some incisive commentary about race and relationships. I don’t see it as “plotless”; to me it had interesting characters doing interesting things and the improvisational nature of the film made it feel even more real.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #320: Victim (1961) - dir. Basil Dearden

This daring (for its time) drama stars one of the all-time greats of international cinema, Dirk Bogarde, in a controversial role that broke down barriers in the kinds of sexual themes that could be presented in British films. There are some fine supporting performances, including those given by Dennis Price, Norman Bird, Peter McEnery, Donald Churchill, Derren Nesbitt, John Barrie, Frank Pettitt, Charles Lloyd Pack and Margaret Diamond. I didn’t love Sylvia Syms as Bogarde’s wife, but no one in the film gives a bad performance. Otto Heller’s black-and-white cinematography is excellent, which makes the look of the whole film quite impressive. Overall I prefer The Servant, but Victim is definitely worth watching both for its high quality of acting and its importance in film history.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #96: The Panic in Needle Park (1971) - dir. Jerry Schatzberg

This depressing drama is as harrowing as you would expect a movie about heroin addicts to be, so it was difficult to find too many positive aspects to it. There’s a large number of notable actors in roles large and small: Al Pacino and Kitty Winn as the main couple, and also Alan Vint (who looks like the unibrowed love child of Tommy Lee Jones and Anthony Perkins), Richard Bright (a fine addition to any movie or TV show), Warren Finnerty, Marcia Jean Kurtz (with some terrific eye makeup), Raul Julia, Angie Ortega, Joe Santos, Paul Sorvino, Bryant Fraser, Dora Weissman (as a feisty pawnshop owner named Esther), Sully Boyar (he’s terrific in his one scene as a doctor) and Rutanya Alda (who married cast member Richard Bright six years later). I noted that the cinematographer was Adam Holender, a talented DP who filmed another chronicle of seedy New York life, Midnight Cowboy; although it may be unfair to compare the two, Midnight Cowboy is definitely a far better. I wouldn’t blame Holender, though, since it’s the fault of more than just visuals. I never got a sense of the characters having arcs. Pacino lends flair to some of the dialogue, but Winn’s character is so unevenly drawn that it’s hard to comprehend her.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #238: Road House (1989) - dir. Rowdy Herrington

This cult classic has plenty of fightin’, lovin’ and swearin’ (alleh meiles - “all the virtues,” as my grandmother would say in Yiddish). Or, as one tagline for the movie reads: “The Dancing Is Over. Now It Gets Dirty.” Patrick Swayze does plenty of sweet roundhouse kicks to dudes’ faces, Sam Elliott sports one of the greatest unruly manes of hair in film history and Ben Gazzara is one of the most over-the-top villains ever as the rich guy who rules the town. (And I do mean ever.) I love how he lives across the water from Swayze like some kind of late-80s Gatsby. Meanwhile, Kevin Tighe plays yet another unsettling character (one of many in his collection); he’s not a bad guy, but there’s still something distinctly creepy about him. (Good acting, I guess?) I don’t quite get the appeal of Kelly Lynch as the love interest - Kathleen Wilhoite is cuter and she proves herself to be a good singer in one scene - but it’s a movie where the guy has to get the girl no matter how little time they’ve known each other and no matter how little personality the script allows her. Speaking of the singing: the Jeff Healey Band plays throughout! Jeff Healey plays an actual character (“Cody”) and has lines of dialogue! That’s the best part of the whole movie. (Well, that and the bad guy who laughs absurdly maliciously after setting another character’s house on fire. I’m going to browse the whole Tumblr tag until I find that moment in a gif.) But seriously, watch Road House for Jeff Healey. He was so, so talented. It’s not that you shouldn’t watch the movie for all the fight choreography and nudity (oh, Mr. Swayze, you looked good), but honestly, the band members are the only guys who finish the picture with all their dignity intact.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #274: Frank (2014) - dir. Lenny Abrahamson

Fascinating movie? Sure. Great? No, I’m not certain that it is. Michael Fassbender might actually be an even better actor with the papier-mâché head than without it. He’s good, as is Maggie Gyllenhaal, who I liked better than usual because she actually has an interesting character, unlike other stuff I’ve seen her try in like The Dark Knight and Won’t Back Down (although, to be fair, she had some great moments in Secretary and I don’t remember whether or not her character had “character” in Stranger Than Fiction). Both actors succeed in their roles because they’re not always easy to understand. (Gyllenhaal makes the sex scene she’s in simultaneously hilarious and a little frightening.) Domhnall Gleeson, on the other hand, has a more complicated character: he serves as our protagonist and yet he is ironically out of place and in some ways unlikeable because he is too “normal” and ready to sell out for success. As in another movie I saw this year, Chef, social media plays an important role in advancing the plot. (I’m waiting for the day when Twitter becomes passé and it looks even sillier than it already does to see Tweets onscreen.) At least in Frank there’s a sense of mocking in the ridiculousness of Gleeson’s Tweeting (“#livingthedream”). Other high points of the film: Scoot McNairy as the band’s disturbed manager, Tess Harper and Bruce McIntosh in their brief scene as Frank’s parents, Carla Azar as the drummer (clearly the most musically talented of any of them) and François Civil as the French bassist. Neither Azar nor Civil has much in the way of screenwritten substance, but Civil gets bonus points for being incredibly attractive. (I believe “newly appointed mayor of babe city” was the technical term I jotted down in my post-movie notes.) The film is let down by its third act, which I guess works out the only way it could have, but it kind of deflates the bubble of eccentric charm that the film had going for it. I understand why the film went where it went, and the ending does make sense in its strange way, but I still couldn’t help feeling disappointment. Frank is worth seeing, though, especially for the song that ought to be a hit single, “I Love You All.”

P.S. My aunt and I were the only people at the show at Landmark Sunshine Cinema. That was OK, but I’m reminded of why I haven’t been there since 2007: it just has a too-too-indie vibe that I can’t stand. MoMA, MoMI, BAM and the Film Forum are easier to deal with.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #195: Waterloo Bridge (1940) - dir. Mervyn LeRoy

This quite fine adaptation of the World War I romance stars the incomparable Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor (he gives the best performance I have seen from him so far). Joseph Ruttenberg’s Oscar-nominated cinematography is exquisite, particularly in a memorable scene set in the “Candlelight Club.” The best supporting performance is given by Maria Ouspenskaya as the ballet mistress from hell, a woman without an ounce of sympathy or tenderness. There are no real surprises in this film, just a tearjerker of a story with great acting from the two leads.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #31: Rollercoaster (1977) - dir. James Goldstone

Why do I feel like that Vincent Canby comment on the poster is such a backhanded compliment? Anyway, this is a fun 70s disaster movie. You got your mustachioed George Segal, you got your stalwarts Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, you got your Timothy Bottoms as the nameless mad bomber, you got your teenage Helen Hunt in 70s teen clothes and 70s teen hair. Nice to see Harry Guardino as well, though Susan Strasberg has very little to do. Great amusement park locations, cinematography by David M. Walsh and a score by Lalo Schifrin help make this a memorable sort-of-thriller (and help you overlook some of the plot holes).

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #313: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) - dir. Otto Preminger

I didn’t really enjoy this noir much. Maybe my cold and sore throat, which have been nagging me for days, were what got in the way of the viewing experience. I’m not a huge fan of either Dana Andrews or Gene Tierney; they are capable of doing good work depending on the role and the director, and here I just didn’t like what was offered. I think it was a combination of both the roles that each had and the acting - they don’t have any chemistry in this film. (I really do need to see Laura again to get a sense of what they were like together in that one…) Don’t care for Gary Merrill either. Nice to see Ruth Donnelly, though; she always livened up any picture she was in. Good photography by Joseph LaShelle too.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #181: The Divorcee (1930) - dir. Robert Z. Leonard

This pre-Code drama, for which Norma Shearer won the Best Actress Oscar, has some good moments, but it’s not really my cup of tea. (I’ve never really been a fan of Shearer.) Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel and Robert Montgomery are among her love interests, but none of them are particularly interesting. (I have a bit of a soft spot for Nagel, who later turned up as Jane Wyman’s middle-aged boyfriend in All That Heaven Allows, but he’s not exactly Clark Gable.) There’s some inspired cinematography by Norbert Brodine, though.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #315: The Big Heat (1953) - dir. Fritz Lang

This crackerjack film noir has great direction by Fritz Lang, memorable dialogue by Sydney Boehm and notable performances by Glenn Ford, iconic noir queen Gloria Grahame (she says many of my favorite lines, including her remark to Ford about his apartment’s style: “hey, I like this - early nothing”), Alexander Scourby, Lee Marvin (talk about vicious!), Jeanette Nolan (established as a great villainess from the first scene onward), Peter Whitney, Adam Williams (always one of my favorite character actors; you may recall him as one of the henchmen in North by Northwest), Dorothy Green, Dan Seymour and Edith Evanson. I guess Jocelyn Brando was OK as Ford’s wife, but even with her less than stellar acting the film makes up for it with the aforementioned dialogue - she has a great line about how “you can fill in the four-letter words better than l can” when husband Ford receives a menacing phone call. I also found it amusing that a painting prominently featured in the film was based on Celia Lovsky but also kind of resembles Fritz Lang. Anyway, there’s great cinematography by the master Charles Lang, throwing shadows around the same way that hot coffee gets slung in a couple of scenes. Final verdict: don’t miss this noir!

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #295: Lili (1953) - dir. Charles Walters

What a good movie! It made me cry quite a bit, but it was so beautifully done. I just adore Leslie Caron (I feel honored to have met her and briefly spoken to her) and I’ve grown to really appreciate Mel Ferrer. They’re terrific here, giving their characters many interesting facets. Charles Walters was a very good and underrated director, receiving his only Academy Award nomination for this film. (Lili was quite the sleeper hit, also being nominated for Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction/Set Decoration and winning an Academy Award for Best Score, which had been composed by Bronislau Kaper.) Jean-Pierre Aumont and Kurt Kasznar are also good here, and even Zsa Zsa Gabor is credible. But Lili belongs to Caron and Ferrer, who both have such strong presences in front of the camera. I am especially glad to have finally seen the film because I remember that my grandmother used to have a VHS copy of it and since she did not usually watch movies, it had to have been a particularly special one for her.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #189: Evil Under the Sun (1982) - dir. Guy Hamilton

Poirot stories are always entertaining, though this one was too easy to figure out. Peter Ustinov is no David Suchet (or even Albert Finney), but he’s still basically good in the role of the Belgian detective. Diana Rigg is terrific as the beautifully costumed actress, while Maggie Smith is good as the hotel owner and former chorus girl, James Mason and Sylvia Miles are fun as a bickering theater couple, Roddy McDowall is amusing as a writer and hanger-on and Jane Birkin and Nicholas Clay (the latter wearing some of the smallest, lowest-slung Speedos you’re likely to see in movies) are good as the young couple also staying at the hotel. The best technical achievements are the costumes by Anthony Powell and the cinematography by Christopher Challis. The film is a nice, diverting 2 hours, not a masterpiece but entertaining for the eye.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #134: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) - dir. Wes Anderson

This is yet another very entertaining Wes Anderson venture, filled with all the detail that you would expect from one of his films, but I must say it did not have as much of an emotional hold on me as other Anderson stories do (Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in particular). The production design, art direction, set decoration and costume design are quite impressive, as is the cinematography by longtime Anderson collaboration Robert D. Yeoman. The cast is impressive too, although some of the performances are definitely more effective than others. Ralph Fiennes is, of course, excellent as M. Gustave, and the performances by Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux and Tilda Swinton are very good. Other appearances are either too quick to make an impression or they verge on distracting for their Anderson-ness (see: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman). Adrien Brody sometimes felt a little out of place in his role - maybe it was just the way he delivered lines - and Jude Law and Edward Norton didn’t quite work for me. Willem Dafoe is fun but almost too over-the-top. Tom Wilkinson can’t register much because he’s barely in the film. Still, this is a very entertaining film, has some touching poignancy, and hey, any film that is dedicated to the inspiration of Stefan Zweig is OK in my book. Speaking of Zweig and books, please read "Letter from an Unknown Woman,“ "Fantastic Night” and “Buchmendel,” three of Zweig’s finest stories. They’ll give you an even greater sense of that old-world European elegance.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #43: 42 (2013) - dir. Brian Helgeland

This biopic is a feel-good look at the story of Jackie Robinson. Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie play Jackie and Rachel Robinson with dignity. Harrison Ford chews a little too much scenery as the Dodgers’ general manager, Branch Rickey. It’s kind of weird seeing Christopher Meloni shirtless but not as Elliot Stabler. Alan Tudyk’s turn as a racist baseball manager is effective. I liked both Andre Holland as Wendell Smith and T.R. Knight as Harold Parrott; in another universe their bespectacled characters would be an OTP. Watching John C. McGinley as Red Barber made me realize how old McGinley is. Anyway, this is basically a good movie. Mark Isham’s feel-good-movie score is annoying at times, but Boseman carries the film.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #39: Pulp (1972) - dir. Mike Hodges

This very entertaining (if weird) dark comedy, styled after classic noirs like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, stars Michael Caine as a pulp fiction writer who must contend with personalities played by Mickey Rooney, Lionel Stander, Lizabeth Scott, Nadia Cassini, Dennis Price, Al Lettieri and Leopoldo Trieste. Give it a try. It’s a little baffling, but there’s a lot of great dialogue.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #308: Act of Violence (1948) - dir. Fred Zinnemann

Considering how many good actors were involved in this project, the end result was disappointing. Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor, Phyllis Thaxter, Berry Kroeger and Will Wright are all fine performers, but the story is shaky and the ending is totally ridiculous for a number of reasons. As much as I love Robert Ryan and as awesome as Mary Astor is in everything (I like her long-haired look here), each of their characters deserved more screen time in different films. There is some striking cinematography by Robert Surtees, but ultimately the film falls flat for me. Three interesting things, though: Janet Leigh’s character is more outspoken and opinionated than housewife characters usually got to be in 1940s Hollywood films and there’s a scene when she’s doing the dishes; Van Heflin asks if he can help, which was another nice touch; the credits that you would normally get at the beginning (listing of stars, screenwriter, director, etc.) all appear at the end of the film instead.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #171: Jaws (1975) - dir. Steven Spielberg

One of the ultimate summer classics and a must for July 4, Jaws has everything you could need: the trio of Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, a good performance by Lorraine Gary as Scheider’s wife, Murray Hamilton as the weak town mayor and Chris Rebello and Jay Mello as Scheider’s kids (the father/son scene with Scheider and Mello is sweet). With Oscar-winning editing by Verna Fields, John Williams’ famous Oscar-winning score, cinematography by Bill Butler and a great screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, Jaws is a true classic and one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

P.S. entrancedintime: Today in MoMA experiences: this time I had no one sitting next to me on either side until just before the film started (which started 6 or 7 minutes late). The seat to my right was filled by a woman who came in a few minutes into the film, rather noisy with her many bags and the flashlight, climbing over people to get to the center where I was. Just before then, as the movie was starting, a family of four Japanese tourists - which included two very small children - sat in the four empty seats to my left and the father, who was sitting next to me, was checking something on his phone throughout the opening credits. Someone eventually told him to put it away, but he and his little daughter were also talking constantly at a normal volume of voice. (She was only four or five years old.) I didn’t have the heart to shush them, but a bunch of other people did. The family eventually left about half an hour into the film. (One wonders what it would have been like if they’d still been there for Robert Shaw’s speech about bringing the bomb to Hiroshima.) Then there was apparently someone in the front row who was checking his or her phone late in the film (got yelled at) and someone who loudly opened a can of soda (didn’t get yelled at). I guess that’s what I get for wanting to go to MoMA for free instead of going to BAM. You win some, you lose some.

P.P.S. “It’s a tiger shark…” Best reaction ever.