Category Archives: Classic

“Blue Velvet” Movie Review

Hmm… I’m not quite sure if I should love this movie for challenging me to think or hate it for leaving me unsatisfied. I guess I should write a review and see what comes up from it. This off-kilter erotic mystery thriller came out in September of 1986, where it barely turned a profit on its $6 million budget and garnered initially mixed reviews. Eventually, writer-director David Lynch’s 4th theatrical feature film gained great critical acclaim and analysis in the years that followed- though it was still famously hated by critic Roger Ebert even after revisiting it. The plot is a mystery where Kyle MacLachlan plays a perve who, through a series of circumstances, gets wrapped up in a plot of sadomasochism and murder involving a night club singer and a really demented gangster. I call him a perve because what other kinds of person would hide in a woman’s closet and then return the following nights to have sex with them? This actually happened in the movie. Twice. Look, I get it. David Lynch is an absurdly creative talent with an eye for the visually and narratively strange. In fact, he often embraces that weirdness with open arms to wrap around the audience. But sometimes, he just gets so caught up in his amount of weirdness that it becomes rather hard to enjoy his movies. Take Blue Velvet, for example. To be clear, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad film. In fact, there are moments of Blue Velvet that are genuinely entertaining and watchable, particularly when it gets into the noir elements. Lynch has always been a master at that level of storytelling with the cult classic show Twin Peaks and his later film Mulholland Drive, both of which I adored. And the performances are alright from the main actors, but let’s be real. The only truly great actor here is the late, great Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth. This is basically the movie that relaunched his dormant career with his surprising turn as an unpredictable if outrageous villain. It’s always fascinating when a movie has a hidden meaning or message underneath the surface, as it can often time warrant watching the film a few more times to soak in everything that needs to be. David Lynch himself has professed that his art is meant to be interpreted freely by the viewers. And the ideas that Blue Velvet brings to life are pretty interesting. But more like his first feature Eraserhead, this film became so obsessed with what it was trying to say that it virtually eliminates the need for a rewatch. My politics being my own private business, I tried to watch this movie without any feeling of demoralization or anger. But truth be told, this movie really got under my skin early on. The level of sadomasochism and sexual pleasure these characters take in is not very believable and borderline unrealistic. To be fair, Lynch has always gotten close to the surreal and blending fantasy with reality. But here, Blue Velvet seems so determined to make Isabella Rossellini as abused as possible and make her ask for even more from a totally innocent man. Considering the amount of press that feminism has gained recently, it’s arguable that this may be Lynch’s most dated movie out of his whole catalog. When sitting down to watch a film by David Lynch, there are usually a set of expectations I set for it: a completely self-absorbed, overly-indulgent showcase of thematic fingerpaintings featuring good actors playing unrealistic characters. Not everything in a movie has to be realistic. I mean, shit, some of my favorite movies are in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. And with Blue Velvet, it’s not quite as much of a fantasy as Mulholland Drive, but it was a bit better than I had expected it to be. If you like serious films with interesting messages, then definitely check it out. Others may be off-put by its excessive weirdness. But this is not conventional filmmaking in the slightest. I’ve already established that about David Lynch. He thrives off of the refusal of formula or convention. I like Blue Velvet and I don’t like it at the same time. It’s as simple as that. It’s a fascinating if a somewhat pretentious portrait of suburban lust that’s just not worth watching too many times. Maybe twice, but that’s about it.

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“Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” Movie Review

As of this entry, all entries from the original Star Wars trilogy (the ones that matter) have been reviewed. In hoping that Disney will continue to recapture such memories, I get into spoiler territory with a movie that apparently a lot of fans hate. The third and then-final installment in the epic space opera trilogy received its widely anticipated release on May 25th, 1983, accumulating over $570 million worldwide in box office receipts. Like the previous movie, series creator George Lucas chose not to take the director’s chair in favor of Eye of the Needle‘s Richard Marquand- though he stayed credited in screenwriting and making the story. As the film opens, our favorite robotic duo from a galaxy far, far away C-3PO and R2-D2 arrive on the desert planet of Tatooine. After trying to convince Jabba the Hutt, a nasty criminal lord in the Outer Rim and a cool showcase for ILM’s makeup department, to give up a frozen Han Solo, both of them are forced into Jabba’s servitude. A similar thing happens when a disguised Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher, attempts to save the man she loves and ends up in chains. Any boy who grew up in the 80’s was bound to have some sort of fantasies about her now-iconic metal bikini. (I may have been one of them) After all of this, Luke Skywalker finally pays a personal visit to the Palace. And at this point, Luke is a completely different person than he was in the previous movies. He’s calm, calculating, but still willing to shoot first. Once he overcomes a tense battle with the mechanical Rancor, he and all his friends are sentenced to be throw into the Sarlacc Pit. Thankfully, former traitor Lando Calrissian shows to rescue them, making for arguably the most exciting part of the whole movie. But this also gave Boba Fett, one of the coolest characters in the Star Wars franchise, a lame death. A blind Han Solo bumping into him and setting off his jetpack is such a cartoony way to kill him off. However, because they filmed the scene from the graphic novels, it’s been confirmed that he is still alive in canon. Before meeting up with the Rebel Alliance, Luke keeps a promise and visits Yoda one more time on Dagobah. In one of the saddest scenes of the original trilogy, he dies at the age of 900, telling him, “There is another Skywalker.” Thanks to a ghost Ben Kenobi, Luke learns that the other Skywalker is his twin sister Leia, and they were separated at birth to hide from their biological father, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. This revelation makes perfect sense, but also makes the kiss the two had in Empire Strikes Back gross. Later, the Rebellion learns that the Empire is building a second Death Star, and is guarded by an energy shield projected on the nearby moon of Endor. While Lando leads the space cavalry, Chewbacca, Leia, Han, Luke, and the droids take a small squad of soldiers to the surface of the moon to destroy the generator. And this is when we come to the most controversial part of the original trilogy: the Ewoks. Some like them, some loathe them, some can’t enjoy the movie altogether because of them. Were they a tool for George Lucas to sell more toys? Yes, they were. But I rather enjoyed them as a kid, and watching them take down the technologically superior Empire is reminiscent of how the Viet Cong defeated the U.S. Army. While these little fuzzballs are giving our heroes a welcoming feast, Luke decides the only way to truly confront his father is if he leaves and surrenders to Darth Vader’s forces. And when he turns himself in, he just doesn’t understand that Anakin Skywalker is not there anymore. The two of them finally meet the Emperor, played like a Shakespearean villain by Ian McDiarmid. The man is a word smith, knowing exactly how to manipulate his subjects into his will, and reveals that not only is the second Death Star fully operational, but that they are fully aware of the impending invasion. At that moment, as the forces on Endor are fighting for control of the battlefield, the Rebel fleet arrives, completely caught off guard by the entire Imperial fleet. Starting one of the greatest memes in internet history, Admiral Ackbar responds by declaring, “It’s a trap!” And then, after getting constantly taunted by the Emperor, Luke Skywalker grabs his lightsaber and is stopped by Vader, turning into a battle of father-versus-son. Not only is this three-way battle extremely entertaining, but it shows that Luke is a relatable Jedi who’d do anything we’d do in his shoes. After a threat to Leia, Luke wails away on Vader and cuts off his hand. I think he would’ve actually killed him. But when he refuses, the Emperor does something never seen before, and attacks Luke with lightning. Vader is absolutely conflicted, looking back and forth between his master and his son. In the end, he lifts the Emperor up and throws him over a precipice. And late in his dying moment, he takes off his helmet and James Earl Jones doesn’t voice him anymore. Redeemed in the eyes of Luke, Anakin Skywalker dies a hero, fulfilling the prophecy in the prequels. Later, after the Death Star is destroyed, John Williams’ score is sounding off in celebration, a funeral pyre is held for Vader. And Luke is the only one attending. During the final celebration, when all the characters have gathered in joy, the Force ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and a young Anakin are shown one last time before the film cuts to black. Many MANY changes were done in the Special Edition, particularly using crappy CGI early on. And later, Vader yells NO!” when he throws the Emperor to his death. But these changes aren’t enough to hurt the overall quality of the film. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is a satisfying end to a magnificent saga. It may be super late, but May the Fourth be With You Always!

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“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Movie Review

And this is how to make a movie that is truly deserving of Best Picture. This provocative drama from director Milos Forman and producer Michael Douglas was released by United Artists on November 9th, 1975, earning back over $100 million on a small budget of $4.4 million total. Today, it is rated as the 16th greatest movie of all time on IMDb and listed as one of the late Roger Ebert’s favorite films. Based on the controversial novel by Ken Kesey- who apparently hated the finished product –One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest recounts the story of Randle McMurphy, an ex-con who transfers to a mental hospital in order to avoid more jail time. Once there, he falls into a trance when he’s introduced to a system where patients are heavily medicated, physically abused, and treated with almost no empathy. He begins to encourage the suppressed patients to fight back against Nurse Ratched’s tyrannical, bullying rule. Recently, I read the book this film was based on as part of a course examining the most challenged novels in American literature. And yes, there are many moments where artistic license is taken with the source material by screenwriters Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, particularly of the point-of-view with the story. But I’m not here to nitpick the differences in the adaptation, I’m here to dissect this simply as a movie on its own. And on its own, this has to be one of the best pictures released in the 1970’s. In the performance that launched his storied career, Jack Nicholson is absolutely electrifying as Randle McMurphy. This basically set the groundwork for all of his crazy roles to follow, from the Joker to Frank Costello. But none were as memorable or arguably as likable as his work in this film. Slightly older than him, Louise Fletcher is completely heartless and uncaring as Nurse Ratched. Male or female, she has to be one of the most despicable characters in film history. Her rule emulates that of any infamous world dictator, manipulating every patient and staff member with careful words. The film also features early roles from Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and an Oscar-nominated performance from Brad Dourif as a stuttering man-child. Will Sampson as Chief Bromden, the narrator of the original book, is also worth noting. His captivating portrayal of a deaf-mute is a unique depiction of modern Native Americans and remains one of the most memorable fictional ones on the celluloid. Although sparsely present, what there is of Jack Nitzche’s score is beautiful. The film opens and ends on the same track with steady percussion and a high voice, punctuated by goosebump-inducing strings. It’s the kind of soundtrack that gives one hope for their lives and makes you want to live life to the fullest; the primary theme of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The camera work by Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler is rather dry. Often the action will be shown in short cuts of editing. Other times it will keep on one shot to emulate the feeling that we truly are inside this mental hospital. Such a moment occurs late in the picture when after a large celebration, the camera focuses in on Randle. He’s not partying, not monologuing about his past. Just a static shot of him drinking a beer while sitting down, silently smiling at his accomplishments. It is this silent simplicity that helps give this film its advantage and likability. But that doesn’t mean that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is always fun and lighthearted. There are some moments that are so powerful that you can hardly finish. The actors and extras did a supreme job at making the environment as realistic as possible. But the portrayal of mental illness, and of the authority that tries to exploit it, is so raw and unpretentious that it sometimes borders on hard-to-watch. From challenged patients who refuse to take their medication to electroshock therapy for those who resist, the movie pulls almost no punches. Which is probably why it went on to win the Big Five Oscars. These were Academy Awards for Best Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, and Picture. One of the rarest feats in the Academy’s history, to win all of these categories in one night is a truly astonishing achievement. And this is a film that really did earn all of it. It also has an ending that can make you feel teary-eyed from both sadness and joy. All I can say is that you will have the feel the feeling of you were graduating. With unforgettable characters, realistic dialogue, fantastic performances and a great sense of dark optimism, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an uncompromising and captivating look at standing up to your oppressors. It may not quite be perfect as a whole, but the smaller moments are the ones that truly make it what it is. It is hard to watch sometimes and to rewatch but it’s absolutely worth it to get a better understanding of mental illness and the will to survive in the face of adversity.

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“Sophie’s Choice” Movie Review

And we all thought that there was no way Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins could be matched in performance. Released in the fall of 1982, this drama received both critical and commercial success just in time for awards season. After leaving his small-town home in the South, aspiring novelist Stingo moves into a shared boarding house in Brooklyn in 1947. Soon after settling in, he meets his upstairs neighbors, Polish immigrant Sophie Zawistowski and pharmaceutical worker Nathan Landau. While they immediately become the best of friends, Sophie and Stingo must brave Nathan’s emotionally tempestuous behavior and violent mood swings. It’s only a matter of time before Sophie trusts Stingo enough to share her harrowing experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. As the synopsis suggests, Stingo acts as our primary point of view for much of the runtime. A young man in his 20’s, his inexperience in the large city of New York, and his desire to understand human love allows the audience to relate to him in his struggles. When he discovers new locations across the city, it’s as if we’re walking in his shoes, seeing what he sees, learning what he learns. The city is a massively scary place for someone of small town background like Stingo, almost as if it wants to suck you in and never let you leave. The desired effect worked well for the most part. That being said, it felt as though the scope was very restricted. Most of the turbulent scenes are told inside of the characters’ boarding house, only one floor apart from each other. In that, it sometimes felt more like a stage play on Broadway, with nondescript locations and a plot that mostly develops from various characters exchanging bits of dialogue. One notable exception to this occurs early on in the picture when the trio goes to Coney Island for a day. While they move through a variety of different rides and attractions, the whole sequence plays like a silent film with color without any verbal or background noise. We only see these three people have the best day of their life, backed by Marvin Hamlisch’s beautiful and subtle score. This is undeniably creative, but it sometimes felt unappealing. However, Alan Pakula makes up for this in the latter half of Sophie’s Choice, when we start getting glimpses and flashbacks of Sophie’s life in Auschwitz. Many colors are desaturated or muted, similar in style to Steven Spielberg’s later Holocaust film Schindler’s List. It is clear that as the situation becomes bleaker, the colors fade even more. To add further authenticity, a rather large portion of the film is spoken in either Polish or German, a choice that throws me into the admittedly conventional drama. This is contrasted by scenes of Sophie explaining her every action in the present day to Stingo. These cutaways to the modern setting are filmed in a first-person perspective, giving the impression that we are listening to her talk to us in person. This allows the audience to better relate to her and her story; especially in the final act when everything comes to a gut-wrenching head. All three leads are terrific in their respective roles. Peter MacNicol, in his second movie ever, does convincing work as Stingo. Right at home with his Texan accent, his naive demeanor and great ambitions make him a man of great compassion. While he may be better known for comedies such as A Fish Called Wanda, Kevin Kline is fantastic as Nathan Landau. An unpredictable paranoid schizophrenic, some scenes were just uncomfortable to watch. But he’s still an indelible figure to look up to and find some warmth in, like when he first met Sophie and they bonded over reading Emily Dickinson poems. Or later, when he declares in a touching monolog that Stingo is destined to become one of the great American writers, alongside Whitman and Wolfe. But the true standout, as you may already know, is Meryl Streep, who completely deserved her Academy Award for Best Actress. It really can’t be overstated how incredible she is. Aside from her near-perfect Polish accent, she manages to hit almost every single emotion imaginable. She bounces between joy, anger, confusion, and unspeakable sadness with ease. If anyone else was cast as the titular character, this performance (as well as the movie) would probably be forgettable. Aside from being an experiment in acting and emotions, there is a point and meaningful purpose in the story of Sophie’s Choice. Through the eyes of Stingo, we are subject to the capacity one man (or woman) has for both love and suffering. When Sophie first arrives at the concentration camp, she is forced by an SS Officer to choose: will her son or her daughter go to the gas chambers? This is nothing easy for anyone. While she has endured so much pain, she still finds the ability to love other people. No matter how many times Nathan hits her, they keep reconciling and rekindling their relationship. There are brief moments of humor, like Sophie incorrectly mistaking Stingo’s seersuckers for “cocksuckers.” But aside from small moments like that, this film is not uplifting, or even very enjoyable to watch. By the time the credits start to roll, you will be left either speechless in your seat or in ugly tears of sadness. Maybe even both. If you aren’t brought to either one of those states, then it’s questionable if you’re truly human. Although it may be too upsetting for some and a little too conventional for its own good, Sophie’s Choice is a fantastically written and beautifully poignant drama about the distinction between love and suffering. It features one of the greatest performances ever put to film and an ending that will haunt viewers for many weeks after.

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“Blazing Saddles” Movie Review

In continuing my crusade of critiquing Westerns, I decided to see one that is much funnier than anything else I’ll talk about in this genre. This satirical Western comedy from legendary laughing man Mel Brooks premiered on February 6th, 1974, earning back over 50 times its small budget of $2.6 million. Co-written by Brooks and controversial comedian Richard Pryor, the story is a parody of any classic Western you can think of. Literally opening the film with the sound of a cracking whip, Cleavon Little stars as Bart, the newly appointed black sheriff in an all-white town. As part of a scheme to take over the surrounding land, a Governor and business mogul plot to use Bart as a means to pave the path. Here is a film that came at the tail-end of not one, but two pivotal periods of American history. In this case, it would be the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and the dominant era of Westerns before they faded away. It parodies the ideologies and concepts behind both of them, which, in a way, shows many similarities between the two periods. Cleavon Little is an excellent choice for the role of Bart. Charismatic and witty to a fault, he’s also apparently the smartest man in the town. The day he arrives, after a long silence from a stunned crowd, he holds his own gun to his head and pretends to take himself hostage. By his side, Gene Wilder plays the drunken, washed up gunslinger the Waco Kid. Despite keeping his dignity in check and providing memorable bits of dialogue, he doesn’t feel right in a supporting role. His immense energy and near-unpredictability gives the idea that he’s more fit for the role of a protagonist, a role which he later received yet again with Mel Brooks in 1974’s Young Frankenstein. The rest of the cast includes regular collaborators like Harvey Korman, Dom DeLuise, and Madeline Kahn, along with comedic/Western legends like Slim Pickens, John Hillerman, and even Brooks himself in a dual role as a Yiddish-speaking Indian chief and a dim-witted governor. Everyone turns in performances of exaggerated or goofy caricatures commonly seen in the genre. Perhaps the biggest drawback of the film is that it is simply too silly in most parts. It completely deconstructs the blatant racism of the time period, something that Hollywood has often obscured in its accounts of the mythic Old West. In fact, the N-word is said aloud so many times by so many characters, that Mel Brooks has publicly expressed doubt that the film could ever get remade in the modern era. I actually met someone who couldn’t finish Blazing Saddles because they said it was the most racist movie he’d ever seen. Not just that, the film also incorporates nearly a dozen or so deliberate anachronisms into a story that is supposed to be set almost 200 years ago. In one particular scene, when the bad guys are getting ready to enact their final move, they’re holding an open call for different types of evil doers from history. Biker gangs, Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Confederate soldiers, you name it. And near the end, as the climax comes to a head, the cast of the movie literally breaks the fourth wall before crashing onto a separate housing on the Warner Bros. studio lot before finishing at the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Joseph Biroc’s camera work also deserves some commentary. Mimicking the works of iconic Westerns, there are numerous wide anamorphic shots of the landscape that paint a vast and beautiful picture of the desert- at least the illusion of a desert. John Morris’ musical score is a nice, rousing bit of music that keeps the viewer in the mood. But it isn’t very memorable beyond the moment of viewing. Accompanying it are a series of original songs, most of which were penned by Mel Brooks himself. And thankfully, they are much more memorable than the score, and even scored one this film’s 3 Oscar nominations. Speaking of songs, another anachronism worth noting is earlier on when jazz icon Count Basie is playing a cover of the song, “April in Paris.” It should be noted that there not many action scenes present here. But for the few that are, they are enticing and fun. Rather, the focus of Blazing Saddles– and for that matter, the comedic content -is set on the character interactions and dialogue. So many comedies attempt to have their jokes rely on toilets and sexual activity, but Mel Brooks knows better. Granted, it does have a lowbrow joke now and again, and was actually the first comedy to be submitted to the American Film Institute for a fart joke. Go figure. It’s a miracle this film actually saw the light of day given the production problems. Casting almost went to Richard Pryor for the roll of Bart, and the filmmakers faced numerous complaints from white audiences for the racism parodied. In fact, studio executives almost decided to cancel its theatrical release entirely. But Brooks, with the help of Wilder and Little, managed to make the movie he wanted. Regarded as the grandfather of the modern-day comedy, Blazing Saddles is a highly influential and enjoyable Western for older audiences. It may be too silly and audacious for some of the more reserved audiences, but it keeps me coming back to watch and quote it.

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“Metropolis” Movie Review

The mediator between the movie and the audience must be the reviewer. This silent epic science-fiction drama from Fritz Lang- based on the novel by his wife Thea von Harbou -was released worldwide on January 10th, 1927. Despite its universal acclaim in the modern era, contemporary critics dismissed it and only barely made back 1% percent of its budget of 5 million Reichsmarks.But today, it is frequently listed among the best and most influential pictures in cinematic history, and for good reason. Set in the (not so) distant future of 2026, the gigantic titular city is inhabited by an array of wealthy, pretentious industrialists who revel high skyscrapers. Underneath it all, workers break their backs to ensure that the city keeps running and that the big machines are in mint condition. The whole city is run by the master and mogul, Joh Fredersen, who really wants nothing more than to keep his high societal status. His son,  Freder, a humble man, realizes how corrupt this system is, and sets out with a young and beautiful woman named Maria to fix what has been wrought. Does that sound like a familiar premise? Absolutely, because Metropolis was the original dystopian story, film or literature. In fact, it was also the first feature-length movie of the science-fiction genre, clocking in at about 2 hours and 33 minutes. Well, at least that’s how long it was at its initial premiere before getting severely chopped down by the studio for commercial reasons until much of the film was restored in 2010 at 2 hours and 28 minutes, which is the version I watched. Though some of the footage is still lost and replaced with modern texts, the restored footage is stylistically different with a dirty film grain and smaller frame. But it still adds to the experience. I promise you this: If there is a franchise in the genres of sci-fi or dystopia that you hold near and dear to your heart, Metropolis paved the way for it. In his breakthrough role, Gustav Fröhlich is excellently convincing as the young Freder. Often frightened by his new surroundings, he has little to no experience in the lifestyle he tries to enter. In an age where heroes are seemingly able to adapt to completely alien situations at a moment’s notice, it’s nice to see a protagonist who has little clue as to what he’s doing. Right by his side is Alfred Abel as the conniving Joh Fredersen, Rudolf Klein-Rogge as a Frankensteinesque madman bent on a powerful creation, Heinrich George as the pragmatic foreman of the machines underneath the big city, and Brigitte Helm as the pseudo-goddess of the working class. Helm is particularly memorable as Maria, showing a great capability of compassion even in her most fearful state. She also shares a dual role with the Maschinemensch, a man-like robot who is used to carry out the wealthy’s agenda. This android is undoubtedly the most iconic aspect of the film and is recognizable to any film buff, regardless if they’ve seen the movie or not. Released during the Weimar Period in Germany, the G-rated film was one of the last in the mostly forgotten movement of Germanic Expressionism. For the unfamiliar, this was a movement of many different arts, including painting, dance, architecture, and cinema. Very few words are needed to describe what is happening onscreen and is all part of the creator’s stylistic logic. Everything that you see in the background is just as important and as interesting as what’s happening in the foreground. Speaking of background, the Art Deco and the production design are simply stunning, even by today’s standards. Everything, from the paintings of distant skyscrapers to the intricate machines of the underworld, took nothing but time and heart- for days on end, perhaps. Although the accompanying soundtrack has likely changed many times over, the score for the 2010 restoration is breathtaking. Recorded by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, it mostly comprises large bombastic tracks with huge horns and percussion during some of the more exciting scenes, while switching to high strings and piano for emotional character moments. Metropolis is not just entertaining black-and-white eye candy, though. Its story delivers important themes such as the gap between social classes, mass production, the dangers of industrialization, and American modernity. The lattermost category is reflective of the Roaring ’20s, or the “Jazz Age,” which was occurring at the exact time of the film’s release. Like many socialites of that era, many of the wealthy people would rather drown in excess and meaningless parties than pay attention to the world around them. Even in the climax, when everything is coming to a head, they still don’t care. In fact, this was arguably the first movie in the so-called “social science-fiction” subgenre, which used futuristic settings to explore themes and concepts regarding human nature. At a time when all anyone wanted to see was the next movie featuring Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp, this is especially brave. It may be over 90 years old and have some minor middle-act pacing issues, but Metropolis is still a relevant cautionary tale about what would happen if class warfare was allowed to flourish. Easily the most influential science-fiction film ever produced, it also stands as proof that not a single line of dialogue has to be spoken in order for a movie to still be engaging, grippingly powerful, and moving. And- dare, I say –Metropolis is the single most impressive and ambitious silent film ever created.

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“Once Upon a Time in the West” Movie Review

It’s February, the beginning of a new year. I want to get reviews of older movies. Return of the Jedi will get it’s time soon enough, as will The Terminator, I SWEAR my life on it. But ever since the Red Dead Redemption 2 reveal, I’ve been in a western mood. Let’s start with a true classic. This epic spaghetti western was released on December 21st, 1968 when it barely broke even with its $5 million budget. Though not as popular as his acclaimed Dollars Trilogy in the U.S., acclaimed director-writer Sergio Leone gives us another memorable epic in the mythical period of the Old West, sans Clint Eastwood. After a recent wedding to a kind landowner, former prostitute Jill McBain, played by Claudia Cardinale, returns to her new homestead to find that her husband and 3 step-children have all been murdered. Seeking vengeance against the railroad tycoon that orchestrated it all, she hires the bandit Cheyenne, the prime suspect who was framed for the massacre, and a mysterious harmonica-playing gunman played by Charles Bronson to track down his whereabouts. All the while, they are hounded by a violent mercenary named Frank, whose bloody reputation proceeds him. For the past couple of decades, there has been an ongoing battle between lovers of cinema. Which is the best Western of all time? Once Upon a Time in the West or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly? As proven with my post on Marvel vs. DC, I tend to stay out of those types of arguments. But I do have an opinion on the matter, which I will mention at a later review for another time. For now, let’s divulge everything that’s great about this film. For the most part, the whole cast gives a round of great performances. Jason Robards is great as Cheyenne. As one of the finer character actors of the last century, he appears to be enjoying himself in the role of a scoundrel with a heart of gold. By his side, before he was slaughtering suburban goons in the Death Wish franchise, Bronson is excellent as a mysterious gunslinger, a trait common in Leone’s films. He is out to kill Frank, whom he feels robbed him of all he held dear before he was even an adult. Even though little is known of him, his devilish charm makes him a likable guy to root for in the ambiguous American West. And while Claudia Cardinale is great in her role as the reluctant protagonist, it wasn’t so memorable like the rest of her co-stars. However, Henry Fonda steals the show as the villain Frank, in a role that cast him against type. Up until this point, Fonda had been primarily known for portraying everyman heroes, like the one man in 12 Angry Men that fought for a convicted man’s innocence. Or when he captivated millions with his role as Tom Joad in the acclaimed 1940 adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath. But now in this movie, he is a violent and selfish mercenary who will kill anyone involved with the job at hand. Let’s move over to the technical scale of everything; it’s breathtaking. Although it was primarily shot and produced in Italy, the beautiful mountain landscapes look like perfect renditions of the canyons from states like Utah or Arizona. Many static, anamorphic long shots from a distance are nicely contrasted by a number of close-ups. This is especially present during confrontations between the characters in the final act. And yes, like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly before it, Once Upon a Time in the West features a climactic Mexican standoff that’s presented as a duel. Though not as tense as that movie, the one here still keeps viewers on the edge of their seats thanks to nothing but the amazing score by Ennio Morricone. The beautiful theme song, mixing harmonica, electric guitar, and violins, is extremely memorable. Any time I start to feel confrontational with someone else, this will be the song playing in my head when it all goes down. Hell, I might even drop a hand to my hip in an attempt to draw my 6-shooter out to trade some fire. In an age where characters have to constantly do some worldbuilding via clunky expositional dialogue, Sergio Leone bucks this trend. There are long periods of verbal silence throughout the movie, without a single word spoken aloud. This, rather ironically, speaks more volumes to its sophistication and requires the viewer to remain fully engaged. Unlike the Dollars Trilogy, this is not a sardonic look at the Old West with in-jokes to sprinkled everywhere. Rather, it’s a more serious but still fun Western that acknowledges some of the darker aspects of that mythical time period. And, like the Dollars Trilogy, that means sitting through its entire runtime, which clocks in at about 2 hours and 55 minutes long. I have no problem with a movie being long as long as, in the end, I can walk out of it feeling that it was completely warranted and justified by the story. While I have this feeling overall, I feel like some parts of it could have been trimmed down just a bit. Despite that, Once Upon a Time in the West is an effortlessly sprawling Western epic that stands up even today. Beautiful, tense, and intriguing, this has to be one of the best of the genre that comes highly recommended from damn near any critic you’d find on the internet.

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