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Movie Reviews for 20 Somethings Intro

Hey there audience! This is a new movie blog where I talk about old and new movies. The goal is to get my fellow 20 somethings interested in all types of films. I’ll cover old films, newest arrivals, black and white, technicolor, international, animated, and every other film in between. I’ve been an active movie fan since I can even remember. I’ve always loved watching and talking about all sorts of films with friends and family. And now, thanks to the internet, and a need to talk about what I love online, I’ve created this blog series to get younger people interested in film.

I feel like a lot of people my age, specifically in their 20’s, are not really into films anymore. Many people watch the latest films and never think about them once they end. Or at least, that’s what many critics and older people say about my generation. But I don’t think that’s true. I think 20 somethings love film, they just don’t know what’s really good. That’s why I’m here: to help you know the good, bad, and the boring. Every week I’ll post about movies that I think you guys would love and movies that I think you should stay away from. I’m here to tell you guys it’s ok to watch movies that are older than a decade and not be seen as a snob. I’m just here, writing reviews on all types of movies, hoping you will become as in love with them as I am.

My Top 10 Movies of 2021

Class of 2021" Poster by randomolive | Redbubble

2021 was a very strange year. Much like 2020 where all the theaters were closed and I virtually saw no new movies, 2021 opened it’s door wide open and I went back to the movies. Though it took a while for me to get used to seeing movies in a theater again, rather than in the comfort of my own home. But for the films I wanted to see so badly, I waited for them to be theatrically released and I had a good time. Now that’s not to say this was a great year for film. In fact, I’d say it was a pretty boring year with not much in the way of good. But the stuff I did see was great and I decided to rank my top 10 films of the last year. I’ll go from 10 to 1 since I like a good list and it will keep you reading until the end to see what my favorite movie of 2021 was.

10. The Night House

This was not a good year for horror. The two big releases from Warner Bros. were both boring, yet interesting. But The Night House was an interesting indie horror film that works because of Rebecca Hall: the main reason why this film works. It’s an in depth character study in the broken life of this woman coping with the loss of her husband. But as the movie goes on, she starts to have visions of what her husband was really like and what it does to her sanity. The story itself was interesting and I wasn’t expecting some of the twists coming. And there were some effective scares and creative uses of camera work. But really, without Hall this movie would not be as great as it was. She really plays her character as dry, depressed, satirical, and such a mess of a person that she steals the show. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen and I recommend the film just based on her performance alone.

9. The Green Knight

The Green Knight has A LOT going on in it. On a visual, metaphorical, and literal level, this film is an impressive piece of work. Of course, being an English major and knowing the story, I kind of have a bias as I find the reworking of old mythology fascinating. The movie looks gorgeous, a lot of detail is put into the sets, costumes, and visual effects that keep your eyes glued to the screen. Dev Patel is giving it his all as he plays the role of an arrogant man who, throughout the course of the film, has to come to terms with his own death and existence. I won’t spoil more than that since this film relies on you to think about the character and visuals, but I would say to check it out if you want to see a beautiful fantasy come to grizzly reality.

8. Last Night in Soho

I already wrote a review on this one already so I won’t say too much. All I’ll say is that it was a fun, scary time that Edgar Wright has always been good at directing. The visual style of the mid 1960s, music choices, story, characters, and how it turns from a coming-of-age story to horror so easily are just a few reasons why I really liked this one. Check out my review on this one if you want more detail. But in short: it’s a fun, scary good time.

7. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Now this was a fun time in the theater! I’ve liked the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies more than most others. I think he best represents both parts of this very famous superhero. But this is a movie that is all about fan service. If you like any of the live-action Spider-Man movies then this will be the movie for you. It references the Sam Rami trilogy, it references the two Sony movies, and it incorporates the Disney Marvel movies in pretty tasteful ways. I was laughing, crying, and having all the appropriate emotions one should have when watching this film. I don’t want to say much more because so much of this movie relies on not knowing too much to get the best viewing experience. But outside of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), this is the best Spider-Man movie (don’t @ me).

6. The Suicide Squad

While Spider-Man: No Way Home was one of the best Spider-Man movies, The Suicide Squad was the best superhero movie of this year. This movie reminds you of how fun, bloody, and creative action movies can be when you have people who are creative making them. I’ve also already done a review on this film so I won’t talk about it too much. But this film was a breath of fresh air from the usual Marvel fare. It was funny, goory, really well acted, weird as shit, and just a whole lot of fun. This is the type of superhero movie I wish we could get more of.

5. Licorice Pizza

This is probably the simplest film on the list in terms of story. It’s a love story between two young people in the 1970s in Los Angeles. But the way the film is paced, acted, and structed kept me invested in these two awkward kids budding relationship. Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman are both great newcomers who bring a life to these two kids that kept me liking them. Even though they’re both two messed up kids, their bond with each other just feels so real that it keeps you invested. Even when they grow apart and their relationship is put through hardships, they always come through for each other in the end. It was a sweet, funny, love story that you don’t see that often.

4. The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Well this was an interesting story. I knew nothing about Tammy Faye and her husband Tim Bakker, their massive Christian TV empire, and the eventual downfall of them. But what a way to get into this weird story that is so batshit crazy that no screenwriter could make it up. But the big reason why it works is thanks to both Andrew Garfield and especially Jessica Chastain. Chastain is perfectly suited for the role as she looks, sounds, and acts the part. I had to look up the real Tammy Faye to see if she had her characteristics right and, yep, she’s spot on. This is the type of movie I never thought I could get invested in because of the subject matter. But it was really fascinating seeing what happened to this couple and how they built a media empire out of of nothing. This was certainly one of the weirder and better true stories adapted to film in 2021.

3. Nightmare Alley

I’ve seen the original 1947 version of this movie and I liked it. It was a freaky noir movie that had twists and turns I didn’t expect. The one critique I have with it is the ending which just wraps everything up in a nice, happy ending. Even though most of the movie was super dark, it ends on an unrealistic note. But in the 1940s you couldn’t end your film on a downer ending. But with this new version by Guillermo del Toro, he goes hard with the freaky visuals, neo-noir style, violence, and a darker ending that hits you harder than the original. This movie is one of the few times I think where the remake is better than the original. While some parts are done better in the original, I think this movie does a great job at expanding and engaging in the darker elements of the story. It’s a fantastic piece of art as the sets, costumes, and lighting are perfect for a neo-noir like this. All the supporting actors are fantastic and really show how messed up the carnival world is. And the main character is… well I won’t say anything since he’s a huge spoiler and I think you need to see this movie to know where I’m coming from.

2. The Card Counter

This is the darkest movie of the year. While Nightmare Alley is a dark neo-noir horror film, this film is written and directed by Paul Schrader, who also wrote Taxi Driver (1976), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and First Reformed (2017). So yeah, this is a really dark movie. It’s a gritty look into the gambling world and a character study of a man who has no emotions. He keeps his emotions to himself and, as the film goes on, we learn that he has a very dark side to him that is explored in grim detail. Oscar Isaac is amazing in this role as he plays it cool, dark, quite, and scary. It’s probably my favorite performance of his and the best of the year. If this film is ignored at the Oscars, then we are doomed as a society.

1. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train

Yes. I put the Demon Slayer movie as my favorite movie of the year. Why you ask? It’s simple: this is the movie that reminded me of why I go to the movies. It had been a full year since I had been to a movie theater (thanks to the pandemic). And I started to forget why I went in the first place. So, being a fan of the show, I decided if I’m going back to the movies, I might as well do it with an action-packed anime. And that was the right call as this movie is unbelievable. It’s beautifully animated, creatively directed, well acted, sounded awesome, musically gorgeous, and filled with humor and character drama. Of course, it helps if you’ve seen the show or read the manga to get the story. But even if you haven’t and you go in blind, I still think you’ll have a good time because it was made for the movie theater. The epic nature of the music, direction, sound, and especially animation, all culminate into the perfect movie experience. This is my number one because it reminded me just how amazing seeing a movie like this in theaters is.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: Remembering Sidney Poitier

Amazon.com: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Poster Movie (27 x 40 Inches -  69cm x 102cm) (1967): Posters & Prints
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

2022 has already started off with a whimper. Last year we lost Betty White, now we’ve lost Sidney Poitier. What is the world coming to? But while White has been in a lot more stuff, thus keeping her culturally relevant, Poitier is the more influential, talented, and longer lasting talent the more you think about him. Poitier was basically the first black star in Hollywood. Remember, back in the early 1950s, there were no black actors that got leading roles. Poitier, through his hard work and picking roles that suited his acting style, was able to become a huge star when no one thought it was possible. Movies like The Defiant Ones (1957), In the Heat of the Night (1967), A Patch of Blue (1965), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Blackboard Jungle (1955), and Lilies in the Field (1963), which he was the first black man to have ever won the Academy Award for best actor, are all classics and great works of art. But I want to talk about Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because… I felt like it. It’s the freshest film of his on my mind and a solid first watch for those unfamiliar with his work.

The film follows a newly engaged couple: Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton) and John Prentice (Sidney Poitier). Joanna wants to stop by her parents house for a dinner party. Her parents, Cristina (Katharine Hepburn) and Matt (Spencer Tracy) are thrilled to hear the news. But Joanna left out one detail: her fiancé is black. Today that may not sound like anything, but back in 1967, it was a very big deal. Integrated couples were very new and not even a decade earlier, in several states, two people of different skin colors could not marry at all. So for Joanna to drop this on her older parents is, a little jarring for them. Nevertheless, Joanna goes on about how she loves John and John has to sell himself as a good husband to not only her parents, but his parents as well as they were invited to dinner too. So… this is going to be an awkward dinner to say the least.

Again, in the late 1960s, this was a pretty risky subject matter to talk about. Race relations were going through a very rocky period and many states in America were still “upset” that interracial couples could marry. In fact, Poitier had two controversial movies about race that came out the exact same year. In the Heat of the Night is a cop movie about a black detective having to help southern white cops find a murderer. It’s odd that both movies not only came out the same year, but they also won a ton of Academy Awards between the two of them. Though, weirdly enough, Poitier didn’t receive any nominations for either role. Which sucks because he was great in both roles. They are two very different roles, but Poitier was one of those actors who, given the scene, could turn in an award winning performance on sheer charm and charisma alone. There’s a great scene in this film where he is confronting his father over his life choices. His father says he owes him everything since he raised him, but John throws that back in his face. He says he needs to live his own life and make his own decisions. He doesn’t need to be told how hard his dad worked for him because he already knows that. He’s an adult who can make his own life changes, even if his father doesn’t like them. It’s a great moment between these two and a real show case for Poitier’s acting abilities.

But this movie not only has Poitier, it also has Tracy and Hepburn, two of the great actors of the 1930s and 1940s. I’ve already said before that I think Hepburn was overrated and always just acted like herself. But in this film it works as she plays a mother worried about the future of her daughter. She doesn’t hate John at all, but she’s worried because of the culture of the time. But when one of her friends talks ill about her daughters fiancé (basically she was being a racist bitch), Hepburn tells her to leave and never come to her house again. It’s a great moment as you can tell this woman will do anything for her daughters happiness. The dad is a little more apprehensive about the whole ordeal. He’s an old school man who has his world shaken up by his daughters last minute decision to marry a man he has never met. And while he tries his best to hide it, he does come off as a little close minded. But thanks to Tracy’s ability to make any character he plays charming and warm, the father never comes off as truly bad. He tries to look at the situation realistically while acknowledging that John is a fine man. When he talks to John’s father about what he thinks about the marriage, he sees that he doesn’t feel alone in his thinking. But he can’t deny his daughter her happiness as he gives in at the end.

While the subject matter seems heavy, the film does a great job at balancing its comedy and drama. There are many funny moments of the characters interactions with each other. John is nervous as he tries to convince two families why he should be married to a white woman, Cristina tries to make Matt happy and understanding, Matt can’t understand what his daughter is thinking, John’s parents don’t know what to make of the situation, there’s a black maid that can’t stand John for obvious reasons, and Joanna is just happy to be marrying the man she loves. To be honest, if there is a criticism to be made, Joanna would be it. I don’t mind having a happy-go-lucky character, but that’s all she is. She never considers her mother and fathers feelings, nor John’s parents, she just assumes everyone will be happy with the engagement. I don’t think even in the 1960s a white woman would be so oblivious to the fact she was marrying a black man when it was illegal in many states a few years earlier. It doesn’t help that Houghton is not a great actress. Her only emotion is happy and even then it feels so fake. All the other actors have to pick up the slack for her. But in the movies defense, the story is more about Joanna’s mom, dad, fiancé, and his parents views on the marriage than it is hers. She is what starts and ends the plot so she’s not so much a character, but a driving force.

But the strength of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is the acting. In particular, Poitier’s performance which is outstanding. He brings a sense of warmth and realism to the part. He’s so damn charming that you start to see why this woman would fall in love with him. And that was his strength as an actor: getting you invested in the character as a real person. Any actor can just play a role and sometimes all you see is the actor. But Poitier was one of the rare ones who could play any role and you would be lost in his performance. He was a natural that very few actors back then, or even today have. There are very few times when a a famous person in the film industry passes away that I fell something. And I feel that we’ve lost one of the best actors of the last century. Please, if you haven’t, go see this or any of the other movies I have mentioned to watch Sidney Poitier the man, the actor, the character.

The Best Years of Our Lives: A Retrospective on the Great William Wyler

The Best Years of Our Lives - Rotten Tomatoes
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

William Wyler was an eclectic filmmaker. He didn’t have a specific style like Hitchcock or Wilder. But he was a director who could basically tackle any genre. He could do comedy and romance in Roman Holiday (1953), musicals like Funny Girl (1968), period piece dramas like Jezebel (1938), and epic films like Ben-Hur (1959). He could direct anything and still turn out a masterpiece. But if you really want to get a feel for his movies then The Best Years of Our Lives is the best one to watch. Especially since it’s the 75th anniversary of a movie that has endured over the years.

The movie follows three veteran soldiers from WWII. They try to reenter society and connect with their families after serving for so long in the war. However, it’s a lot harder than they thought it would be. Fred (Dana Andrews) was a revered war hero, but he can’t get a higher paying job since he has no skills. He ends up working as a soda jerk for minimum wage. Al (Fredric March) is able to get his old job back as a bank executive but gets in trouble for handing out loans to veterans, putting a strain on his relationship with his family. Homer (Harold Russell) lost both his hands in the war and now has to learn to adjust to his situation. This also puts a strain on his girl Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell) as she tries to help out but is pushed away by him.

The film doesn’t have big stakes like a lot of other films. There are no chase scenes, no murder mysteries, no big comedic moments, and there’s not even a big dramatic climax. This is a small-scale movie that focuses in on its characters. It’s a film about how to cope with life and family after being away from the world for so long. This was actually one of the first movies to show what life was like for veterans after the war. After the war, the U.S. government didn’t have a good plan to integrate soldiers back into society. So many of them couldn’t find jobs because they had no skills, their pay was low, there was no place for wounded soldiers to physically and psychologically turn to, and they were treated by people as though they were bums. This film is brutally honest in showing how these men feel about their situation and how hard it is for them to fit back into American society. And it also shows how hard it is for their families as well. They also had to cope with the struggles that their husbands, boyfriends, and fathers had to go through. There are very few films even today that tackle this subject matter from all sides, so this film was way ahead of its time.

But what makes us care about these characters is the fact that they feel like real people. Everyone in the movie feels realistic, letting us relate to their struggles more. From Fred’s dissatisfaction to having to work a crappy job to make a living, to Al trying to make his family happy while also trying to help his fellow veterans, to Homer’s struggles to feel normal without his hands all resonate as real problems. Even the families have character as they also have to deal with the men’s struggles. Al’s wife Milly (Myrna Loy) tries to put on the façade that everything is ok for the sake of her family, but deep down she’s just as anxious as her husband. Wilma struggles to keep a smiling face for Homer, but she can’t deny that trying to deal with his mood swings is a lot to handle. Every character is fleshed out and adds to the realism of the story.

Since the film is more focused on its characters, the acting is superb. March as Al plays a complex man who tries his best to balance his present with his past. He’s very sympathetic and has the most to lose since he has a family. One of the best scenes is when he first gets home to surprise his family. He sneaks into his house and quietly introduces himself to his kids and wife. It’s one of the few moments of levity he and his family have, and March gives a compelling performance in this scene. His performance earned him an Academy Award for best actor. Loy as Milly is also quite relatable as she tries to make her husband happy, even though their relationship is strained due to pressures at home. Andrews is the most relatable as he’s the one who points out the faulty system for the veterans. He’s angry that other people are getting better jobs than him because he’s “unskilled”. And seeing as how he was a war hero who protected his country, only to return to be treated so poorly is really telling of how veterans were and even still are treated. O’Donnell as Wilma is also fantastic as you see her become more disenfranchised with Homer over-time but does her best to help him. The first time she sees Homer with his hooks she’s horrified but pretends to not be bothered by it. But the standout is probably Russell as Homer. Russell was a real veteran who lost his hands in the war. This was his first acting job and he’s phenomenal here. Since he was a real veteran, he brings a lot of anger, sadness, and sympathy to his character. His best scene is when a group of children look at his hooks and he thinks they’re making fun of him. In a fit of rage, he smashes his hooks into the window to show them what has happened to him. It’s a powerful moment that probably got him the Academy Award for supporting actor.

Wyler was definitely an actor’s director as he was able to get a great performance out of everyone in the movie. This paid off for him as he won the Academy Award for best director and The Best Years of Our Lives won best picture. It’s a dramatic, yet heartwarming experience of a movie that really shows just how versatile Wyler was as a director. He might not be the flashiest director I’ve talked about, but he might be the only one who could tackle any genre or story and create a classic film out of it.

Why The Shop Around the Corner is the Best Ernst Lubitsch Film

The Shop Around the Corner - Wikipedia
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Ernest Lubitsch is almost a forgotten director. But for a while in the 1930s and 1940s he had a string of hit movies like Trouble in Paradise (1932), Ninotchka (1939), and To Be or Not to Be (1942). He had a unique style that glorified the rich and famous and made them seem quirky and relatable. His stories and characters were more refined and seemed more European than American, which audiences liked at the time. However, today his style is alienating because these same stories and characters are too refined and not very relatable. However, there is one film of his that is relatable and still keeps his artistic charm. That would be The Shop Around the Corner: one of my favorite romantic comedies.

The movie takes place in a small general store in Budapest. The store has a small crew of dedicated employees run by the mean, but good-hearted Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan). Two of the stores employees are Alfred (James Stewart) and Klara (Margaret Sullavan), who constantly are arguing with each other. But at the end of their workday they mail letters to their anonymous pen pals, which makes them happy. However, things turn complicated as it turns out the two of them are pen pals with each other. And to make things worse, they have both fallen in love with each other not knowing who the other person is. But as bad as that is, the fact that the store is not doing so well, and they could all be unemployed at any moment is becoming a possibility. These two employees lead a complicated life as they try to balance their work and love lives.

One of the things that Lubitsch does exceptionally well is creating likeable, charming characters. Everyone in the movie is relatable and charming as hell. Alfred and Klara’s relationship could have become a mess in the hands of a lesser filmmaker. These two constantly fight with each other but it feels real as Alfred is a smartass and Klara is very sincere. Alfred makes fun of her for being in love with someone she doesn’t know, but Klara doesn’t care about what he thinks and follows her heart. However, halfway through the film Alfred does catch on that she’s his pen pal and he doesn’t tell her. At first, he does this to get back at her. One of the funnier scenes is when he sees her at a café waiting for her pen pal, even though he knows it’s him. He’s making fun of her in order to get back at her for making fun of him in the first part of the movie. But later on, in the same scene, he realizes he’s fallen in love with her. But because of his cynical nature, and being stubborn, he thinks she might not love him back. However, overtime Klara does fall in love with Alfred because he shows his vulnerability to her. At one-point Klara gets sick and Alfred takes care of her for the night. In her feverish state he feels more comfortable talking to her and lets his guard down. Them falling in love isn’t forced because they’re connected through their letters and working together in the shop. It’s a love story where the relationship feels genuine. It also helps that Stewart and Sullavan turn in great performances. Stewart was a master at playing the loveable everyman. He’s funny, naturalistic, charming, serious, and relatable. It’s hard to pick one scene that exemplifies this because every moment with him is great. Sullavan is also charismatic, funny, snarky, and lovable. She’s the type of woman you could fall in love with even if you did fight with her all the time. Both the actors do a great job at bringing these two charming characters to life.

But just as great as the two leads are, it’s the side character Mr. Matuschek, the store owner, that really stands out. Many of the funny and dramatic moments happen with him and his personal life. He at first comes off as a stern boss who seems mean to his employees. But as the film goes on, we learn that he’s trying his best to keep the store open and tries to deal with his personal life. In fact, one of the more intense moments of the movie is when we learn that one of his employees is having an affair with his wife. He believes that it’s Alfred and fires him. But he later learns that it was another employee that did it. He feels so bad about the whole thing that he almost kills himself. This is a dark turn for the story, but it works because you grow to love this character. Hell, Mr. Matuschek feels like the main character at points, but then you remember this is technically a love story, so it never gets too real. And the performance by Morgan is unforgettable. He has a daunting task of playing a jerk, then less of a jerk, then a nice guy, then sad, then depressed, then sympathetic all within the span of one movie. He brings a lot of heart to this character and his is one of the best performances in the film.

And that was Lubitsch’s strength as a filmmaker: having relatable and fun characters. The characters all drip with personality. And as polished and witty as the dialogue is, they all feel like real people. The world they inhabit, their individual character traits, and their own relationships to each other feel genuine. This movie is the best example of his ability to create such unique and fun characters. Most people might know this story from the remake by Nora Ephron called You’ve Got Mail (1998). It’s the same story and some of the same characters, but it doesn’t have the same heart and relatability as The Shop Around the Corner.

Shadow of a Doubt: How Hitchcock Sets Up a Cat and Mouse Game

Shadow of a Doubt Movie Poster (#1 of 4) - IMP Awards
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

I don’t think anyone will deny that Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense. His most famous films dealt in murder and mystery. Everything from his early works in Brittan, like The Lady Vanishes (1938), to his work he did in America, like Rope (1949) and Vertigo (1958), all deal with suspense in various ways. Shadow of a Doubt is one of many of his movies dealing in murder and suspense. However, what makes it so unique is the interplay between the two leads. It’s the perfect cat and mouse game.

The leading lady of the movie is Charlie Newton (Teresa Wright), a teenage girl living in Santa Rosa who’s pretty bored with her life. That is until she hears news that her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) is coming to town to stay with her family for a while. However, the audience knows from the beginning that Uncle Charlie is a serial killer who’s wanted by the police. He decides to stay with his family until he feels it’s safe to move on. Charlie does begin to suspect that he’s a criminal throughout the film with her noticing his bizarre behavior and evidence of his crimes. Uncle Charlie notices that Charlie is suspecting him. He goes from a loving uncle, to trying to kill her so his secrets aren’t revealed. It’s a game of cat and mouse where the cat is way too dangerous and the mouse is completely alone.

What Hitchcock does so well is setting up the inevitable confrontation. From the very beginning of the movie we know that Uncle Charlie is a murderer. He’s introduced running from the police as he as already killed an older woman for her money. So, we are scared for Charlie the minute he steps off the train. There’s a real sense of suspense and tension throughout the film as we know he’s dangerous. However, Charlie is the lead of the movie, and she’s no fool. She starts off as a naïve teenager who’s happy to see her uncle thinking she will get some excitement in her boring life. But she realizes very quickly that her uncle is not what he seems. She notices how he hates it when people take his picture and she finds him hiding news paper clippings of his crimes. When she figures it out though, Uncle Charlie also knows she knows.

Now that the two of them know about each other’s secrets, neither of them back down. Charlie tries to be sneaky and get some evidence from him, while Uncle Charlie goes so far as to break the stairs in order to make it look like Charlie fell on “accident”. This is when you start to worry for Charlie because she could easily be killed. So we want to see her win and beat her uncle at his own game of intimidation. It doesn’t help that Charlie is alone because no one believes her. Uncle Charlie is extremely charming, heart-warming, and really cool when he interacts with his family and others. The movie makes him out to be a model citizen, but then you remember he’s a killer. You sympathize with Charlie even more as she’s a teenage girl that no one listens to. You relate to her struggles and you want her to outsmart a man who was someone she loved a few days before.

It helps that the two leading actors are really good. Wright as Charlie is warm, bubbly, and acts like a real teenager, at least a teen from the 1940s. She’s also one of the few teenage characters at the time that’s written to be a very smart, no nonsense character. When Charlie learns about her uncle, Wright goes from being loving around him, to being cold and scared. She really sells how terrifying he is and how she can’t let her guard down. It goes without saying that Cotton as Uncle Charlie is really good too. He constantly shifts from being the coolest guy to being the scariest. He walks a fine line between being your loving family member in one scene, then in the next scene is trying to lock you in your garage and suffocating you with exhaust fumes. We never know what’s going through his mind or how far he will go to keep his identity a secret. It’s a compelling performance and he cements himself as one of the best villains in Hitchcock’s library, which says a lot considering all the films he has done.

These two are great together as they share the same amount of screen time. And seeing as how this story relies on its suspense and mystery, I won’t give away much more. Rest assured Shadow of a Doubt is a great watch if you’re up for an intense cat and mouse chase. It’s one of my personal favorites of Hitchcock and one that needs more love, in my opinion.

1941: Where is the Laughter?

1941 (1979) - IMDb
1941 (1979)

1941 is an unfunny mess. I could just stop there as there is nothing to this movie at all. It’s the type of train wreck, bomb of a film that people think of when talking about a really bad film. But the reason this film can never be in the niche category of “so bad it’s good” media like Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957), The Room (2003) or even the Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), is because a bad comedy can never be an ironically good film. Drama, when done poorly, is always so bad that it’s funny, whereas comedy, when it’s done bad, is never funny and no one has a good time.

The movies plot, if there even is one, is set the day after Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Japanese navy decide to attack Los Angeles because it would be a symbolic attack on Hollywood, I think. It’s unclear why they want to do this but let’s just go with it. The American forces are preparing for a naval invasion and decide to station some troops around LA. Needless to say, shenanigan’s happen as there are love triangles, ground troops occupy civilian homes, and one air force pilot is trying to find the city so he can get into a fight.

The reason why I see no need to spend so much time on the plot is because there is none. The film is just made up of a series of “comical” events around a cast of about 30 characters. None of the characters are interesting, motivated, or even funny as they are all one dimensional pieces of cardboard. The cast should theoretically work as there are a lot of really good actors. John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Candy, Christopher Lee, Toshiro Mifune, and a slue of other great actors are all in this movie. But the writing and direction does nothing for them. The dialogue is so bad that they have nothing to work with. You would think having Saturday Night Live (1975-present) alumni like Aykroyd and Belushi would have some funny moments. But sadly there is no laughter to be had. Belushi spends the whole movie in a plane swearing and being over-the-top, while Aykroyd just spouts military jargon in a speedy fashion. And it’s honestly really sad to see great actors like Lee and Mifune in this movie because I know they are WAY better than this.

But you want to know the saddest thing about this movie is? The saddest thing is that it shows us that Steven Spielberg can’t do comedy. This was a big budget comedy with tons of stars and a director who seemed like he could do anything. A few years before he had huge successes with Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), so he thought he could do no wrong. So, with a huge ego, big stars, and the people who would later write Back to the Future (1985) this should have been a hit. But it wasn’t. The movie only broke even and it was critically panned. And for a good reason: this film just plain sucks. Literally no joke works and, it’s kind of sexist. There are a lot of sexual innuendos and all the female characters have no character. But there is a sexual assault through line between two men and another woman. One of the big set pieces is a dance competition at a club where the two men are dancing in order to get the girl. One of the guys is already the boyfriend to the girl, while the other guy is essentially a rapist who grabs her and tries to have his way with her every time they are together. It’s a really disturbing character interaction and it’s played for comedy. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s not funny.

In fact, none of 1941 or any of it’s jokes are funny. It tries for slapstick comedy but it fails constantly. The movie thinks the more noise it makes the funnier it is. Sexism, racism, and sexual assault seem to also be played for laughs. You can clearly tell that this movie tries to copy the comedic tone of movies like Animal House (1978), but fails to understand why people find that movie funny. Animal House was raunchy and crude, but it did this on purpose to poke fun at authority figures in colleges and to make fun of the upper crust of society. What is this movie making fun of? The war, propaganda, the 1940s in general? The fact that there is no clear theme means that there are no jokes at the expense of anything. It’s an empty void of a comedy that can’t be enjoyed ironically or unironically. It is a mess of a film and it’s a shame that this is one of the only few films about Pearl Harbor in anyway. It just goes to show that even with the right people making it, 1941 was destined to fail as an unfunny movie; which is the worst kind of movie.

Hangover Square: How Music Can Make a Movie

Hangover Square (film) - Wikipedia
Hangover Square (1945)

I feel like musical scores in movies are unappreciated. We know certain themes to famous movies, but we tend to think of music as background noise that surrounds the rest of the movie we are watching. But I believe that given the right way it’s used, music is an important element that can make or break a film. Hangover Square is a film that 99% of you have never heard of. In fact, I’d never even heard of it until I came across it on the Criterion Channel. I’m honestly shocked that more people don’t talk about it because it’s a tightly made film noir with a soundtrack that makes the film what it is.

The film is set in London in the early 1900s. George Harvey (Laird Cregar), a famous composer, comes home after killing a man and doesn’t remember it. He tells his fiancé Barbra (Faye Marlowe), that he has no recollection of what he did that nigh. In an attempt to help him, she takes her to see Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders), who happens to work for Scotland Yard. While he looks into George’s case, George starts to fall for the beautiful singer Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell), and starts to write songs for her act. But her actions are dubious as she’s just using him to further her career and is stringing him along. While George can’t seem to get it into his head that he’s being taken advantage of, every so often when a loud noise startles him he goes into his murder mode and goes around London killing people. All the while he is trying to compose his magnum opus.

With the lead being a music composer and song writer, the film revolves around music in every way. Music is what drives George, he’s so obsessed with writing his concerto because he believes that’s more important than his own life. He also seems to be a natural song writer as the night he meets Netta, he writes a song for her in less than a minute and not too long after that she sells the song. Honestly that’s more of a nitpick for me, the idea that songs can be written with the snap of a finger. This happens more in movies from this era and it’s so dumb that I just had to bring it up. You could say that that part is just a part of his genius when it comes to music as he not only works on his concerto, he’s also killing people.

We never do learn why George is killing people. He seems to go into a trance every time he does this, like he can’t control his actions. It sort of reminds me of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you have a normal man by day and by night you have a sicko murderer. That comparison is apt as the two stories take place around the same time, both main characters have fiancés, both main characters have side girls who are either evil or do shady things, and both main characters bad sides are insane. Probably the most nuts George gets is towards the end when it comes to Netta which I will not spoil. But let’s just say their resolution took some turns that I didn’t expect from a movie from 1945 that involves Guy Fawkes and a bonfire.

But I feel the reason this film works is because of the man who scored it: Bernard Hermann. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hermann’s work, I will list just a few of his film credits. Citizen Kane (1941), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), Cape Fear (1962), and Taxi Driver (1976). Yeah, this guy is very important when it comes to film history. Everyone has at least seen one of these movies or at least knows the famous musical scores from them. He was an innovator for his time and was always trying new things for all of his movies. This is one of his earlier scores, but you can already tell he’s got some ideas. For instance, when George goes into his murder mode, a high-pitched flute starts to play. As the screen gets foggier, signifying that he is loosing control, the flute also starts to loose control and sounds harsh. The sound is very similar to Japanese flutes in old samurai movies whenever a sword fight is about to start. It’s very startling but you know every time you hear it, it’s not going to end well. And when we hear George’s finished concerto at the end, it sounds loud and unhinged, like his mental state. The music plays and swells as George furiously plays his music, all the while he starts to remember what he did. He looks like a mad man and the music helps punctuate that by being just as mad as him.

This is the most interesting use of music I’ve hear in any film from the 1940s. It gives Hangover Square it’s own personality. Outside of the movie having great direction, acting, and a tightly woven story, all that would not work if it wasn’t for the music. Music may not be the first thing you notice when watching a movie. Usually you take in the images first since film is a visual medium. But when a score like this goes so hard and so bold, you can’t help but notice it. The music calls for your attention and it never feels overbearing. It’s the perfect fit for a movie like this. If you love music in movies or want to check out Bernard Hermann’s work, then Hangover Square might be it for you.

Ace in the Hole: 70 Years of Cynicism

Ace in the Hole (1951) movie poster
Ace in the Hole (1951)

Most audiences watch movies in order to feel good about life. The most popular films are films where you don’t have to think too hard. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s why films exist: to transport us to another world where we can find hope and be happy.  However, there are movies that take a cynical approach to show that the world is a cruel place. While most of us want to escape from the troubles of the world, we can’t deny that we want to watch movies that show us how shitty the world can really be. Ace in the Hole is one of the meanest, most cynical, and ruthless films possibly ever made. It’s a movie that takes a look at the current state of the world and says it sucks. And it’s that cynicism that makes this a classic.

The film centers around Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) a reporter going from state to state trying to find a job. He ends up in a small town in New Mexico working for the local paper. Not much happens in this town so he’s not too thrilled. However, his luck changes when local Indian artifact hunter Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) gets trapped in a mineshaft. Tatum has several opportunities to help Minosa, but he sees a great opportunity to write an article on Minosa’s situation. Tatum drags out the rescue as much as possible and the story he’s reporting starts to attract people from all over the state. Even Minosa’s wife, Lorraine (Jan Sterling), becomes intertwined in the story. Tatum can’t resist such a big story, even if he becomes a part of it.

This movie was way ahead of its time in terms of satire. The story is essentially poking fun at journalism turning into sensationalist media. Tatum’s character is the poster child for greedy journalist who only want to sell papers for profit. We know from the beginning he’s a vagrant who happens to be a reporter. He’s only in New Mexico because he was fired from every other job he’s had. He doesn’t care about the town, the people, his love interest, and especially the man trapped in the mineshaft. He constantly stalls the police from helping this man so he can get a better story. He even makes a deal with the local town sheriff so that no one can help Minosa. He’s a jerk to everyone around him. In particular to Lorraine, which he’s physically and mentally abusive to throughout the film. He has no remorse and should be the villain of the story. But, somehow, we sort of relate to him. He’s an out of luck reporter trying to make a living. As horrible as he is, he’s charismatic and a terrific liar. Everyone in the story falls for his charm, including the audience. Douglas does an excellent job at balancing the relatable and awful side of the character. He can go from being a charismatic, handsome journalist one minute, then in the next he slaps Lorraine with no remorse. It’s a great performance and probably his best work (and a good first watch for people not familiar with him).  He’s an intriguing character that we can hate and love at the same time.

However, while he does manipulate the situation for himself, everyone else in the story is just as bad. From Lorraine, to the sheriff, to the townspeople, everyone is out for themselves. Lorraine isn’t faithful to her husband as she goes after Tatum and goes along with his scheme. And while Tatum is awful to her, basically abusing her, she’s just as bad as he is. She’s in no rush to save her husband and says that she never really loved him, leading to her cheating on him with Tatum. The sheriff of the town goes along with Tatum and stalls any rescue attempts. A man is dying in a mineshaft and not even the police will help him. And the townspeople are no better as they camp out for days wanting to see what’s going on, since this is the most exciting thing that has happened in this town.  Hell, there’s even a carnival with thousands of people at one point all pretending to be “concerned” for Minosa’s safety. Yet no one in this cast feels the need to save a man who’s slowly dying. The movie is very critical of the masses and shows them as being selfish. But this is intentional as the film shows how sensationalized media is detrimental to society. Journalism is supposed to show us the truth and present the facts. However, when journalist abuse this power and creates stories for mass consumption to profit off of, then what’s the point of having the press at all? It’s a biting, satirical look at how mass media can be abused for personal profit.

This cynical outlook didn’t help the movie when it first came out. In fact, it was a critical and commercial failure at the time. Audiences and critics thought it was too mean and harsh in its portrayal of people and the media. Today though, even 70 years later, it’s considered a classic because of how authentically cynical it is. It laid the groundwork for later and more cynical films like A Face in the Crowd (1957), Network (1976), The Truman Show (1998), and many other films. Ace in the Hole was too ahead of its time then, but now it fits in more with a 21st century view that most audiences will appreciate.  

Spirited Away Turns 20 and I Feel Old!

Spirited Away Poster – Ghibli Universe
Spirited Away (2001)

I’ve already talked at length about Studio Ghibli at their best and worst. Princess Mononoke (1997) is my absolute favorite animated movie and Tales From Earthsea (2006) is the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry. But if you’re in your late 20s or early 30s, you probably got into Studio Ghibli via Spirited Away. I know that’s a broad generalization as I have friends who got into the studio early on with watching either My Neighbor Totoro (1988) or Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) on very early DVDs. But I think for most of us in 2003, when the movie was released in the U.S., we saw Spirited Away and it blew all of our minds. I’m mostly going to be talking about this film through my experience watching it and what it means to me now. I’ve already talked about how almost all the Ghibli films look and sound great on a technical level. So this is going to be my personal story with this movie and why I love Studio Ghibli.

But I won’t leave the 3 people who haven’t seen the movie hanging and give a general synopsis of the plot. 10-year-old Chihiro (Daveigh Chase/Rumi Hiragi) is moving to a new town and she is not too happy. But when her and her parents get lost on the way, they find a hidden town in a forest with free food lying around. Chihiro doesn’t eat the food but her parents sure do and they turn into pigs because of it. This is no ordinary town as it’s actually a vacation spot for spirits. The main attraction being the big bathhouse run by Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the semi-villain of the story who controls everyone working there. Including Haku (Jason Marsden/Miyu Irino), a boy who helps Chihiro throughout the story and seems to have a past with her. In order to get her parents back and get out of this spirit world, Chihiro must work at the bathhouse and prove her worth to Yubaba, Haku, and eventually herself.

I’m going to go over my history with watching this film for the first time. I didn’t even know this movie existed until the 75th Academy Awards. I was super into the Oscars when I was younger and would watch every year just to see what won. This was at a point in my life that I was watching everything that came out, even though that hasn’t changed for me much. Anyway, 2003 was a super competitive year for animated movies as Ice Age, Lilo & Stitch, Treasure Planet, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron were all nominated. I knew and had seen all those films, except for Spirited Away, which was a film I had never even heard of. When that movie won I was shocked and couldn’t believe all those other movies lost to a Japanese cartoon of all things. Remember, I was 10, and most of my exposure to anime was Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z. So when the film won the Oscar and got a wide release, I wanted to see it. So me, my mom, and brothers all went to the theater to see this movie and… I was shocked at how much I loved it.

It was so different from every other animated movie I had ever seen before. It didn’t look cheap like the TV anime we were getting in the late 1990s, but it didn’t look like a Disney movie either. There was a different feel to it. Maybe it was because of the weird yet cool looking designs of the spirits. They were all so bizarre to me because I knew nothing about Japanese culture. The weirdest and creepiest to me was the water spirit after Chihiro gives him a bath. That old man mask scared the hell out of me! And I had never seen an animated movie that was both beautiful and gross at the same time. The beautiful factor was the animation, music, setting, and character designs. No-Face was where the gross factor came in for me as while he starts out kind of normal in the beginning, by the end he turns into a hideous monster who throws up on Yubaba and his black body comes apart in a slimy form. I never had a more visceral reaction to a scene as I did when Chihiro had to run away from a crazed No-Face.

That’s another thing that got to me: I got invested in Chihiro. I saw myself a little to much in her. I felt a lot like her at that age so I guess I saw this film at the perfect time. I liked how Chihiro acted like my age. She was scared, cowardly, complained a lot, and was shy. When she was going down those stairs sitting down one step at a time to get to the boiler room, I was like “Oh yeah, I’m this girl”. But that was the intention of her character. She’s supposed to start off as a spoiled brat who is a coward. But as the film goes on and she needs to take more risks to save people, she musters up the courage and does it. When she has to run along the breaking pipe in order to save Haku, I got scared and excited for her because she would not have done this in the first act of the movie. And at the end she becomes a much stronger person. I won’t spoil what happens, but the ending is so damn good and makes me smile every time.

But I think why Spirited Away gets so much acclaim in the west is because even though it’s very Japanese, the story itself feels international. The setting and art was all new to us in 2003, but the story was a coming of age story, mixed with Alice in Wonderland. Think about it. You have a young girl that starts off as a brat but becomes a better person by the end because of her experiences with this new world. And the world itself has its own rules and creatures that may not make sense to us, but in the context of the story makes perfect sense. And I think that’s why this movie caught on in America and with young people my age. It was relatable, but just foreign enough to where we could say we like anime. And I know after this movie I wanted to see more of not just Ghibli movies, but more things like it. This was the point where I got interested in anime outside of kids TV and wanted something more. And I can’t thank Spirited Away enough for that. For nearly two decades this film has inspired me and others like me to seek out different media outside of the U.S. This is the Ghibli movie that you show someone to get into Ghibli movies. And while I think there are better Ghibli and anime films in general, Spirited Away is the one film I can show to anyone of any age and they will get hooked. And me recounting all this is making me feel very old, in a good way.

Is All Quiet on the Western Front the Best Anti-War Film?

All Quiet On the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Anti-war films are the ideal films to tell a dramatic story. Having the story and characters experience the horrors of war and how it affects them can create a great movie if done right. There have been many anti-war films made during the silent era and many more after talking films were introduced. But the one anti-war movie that has inspired filmmakers since it was made was All Quiet on the Western Front. This is, without a doubt, the most influential and greatest anti-war movie ever made. It set the standard for the genre and to this day films have tried to recapture what this film did so right.

The movie, based off the novel of the same name, takes place in Germany during World War I. The movie follows a group of college students who decide to join the army after their professor preaches how it’s their duty to protect their homeland. However, once they leave their homes and families, they soon realize that joining this war would be their undoing. They see how tough being in the army is and how they’re just one of thousands of expendable soldiers. When they get on the battlefield, they see that it’s not as beautiful as they were told. Rather, it’s pure hell as bullets rain on them, men die in front of them in horrible ways, and they’re always one step away from death. These young men learn the hard truth about war and how horrible it really is.

Originally this film was released as a silent film in 1929. However, once talking films were introduced, studios were scrambling to remake or redo their silent films. Some movies were rushed jobs where they would have been better without sound. This movie used both the original silent print and re-shoots that include dialogue. Thanks to that change the film actually is better with sound. The sounds of bullets rushing past soldiers, the whistling of bombs, and pained screams of men turn the fights into a nightmare. The sound effects are effective in putting you in the same situations as the characters. The film also looks grimy and realistic. It makes the war look like, well, a real war. It’s dirty, bloody, and never gives you a chance to breath. One of the biggest scenes is when a line of soldiers are shot down by a machine gun. The sounds of the gun and the fast-paced camerawork make this a gruesome moment as soldiers fall down dead. The movie does a fantastic job of making WWI look like the hellish landscape that it was. It never sugar-coats the horrible things happening on screen.

The film also does a fantastic job at showing how war turns people into animals. For instance, the first scene is a professor rallying his students to join the army. He promises that if they fight for their country they fight for glory and fame. And in the first part of the film we see how the young men envision themselves as heroes. They imagine being in that uniform and impressing their families and friends. And the town they live in encourages them with flowery talk about glory and even gives them a parade to send them off. This shows just how jingoistic a nation and its people can be when it comes to war. However, once these boys leave town, reality crashes in on them. They’re thrown into boot camp where they’re treated like another cog in the machine. They’re sent out in the trenches to just sit and wait as bombs drop on them. Several of them are hospitalized in awful and cramped makeshift camps where dozens of soldiers around them are dropping dead. Suddenly they see the war for what it really is. They see that war only brings misery and death for those who seek it. The war shows that they are insignificant when it comes to the rest of the world. There’s even a scene towards the end of the movie where one of the boys goes back to his professor at the beginning and he’s giving the same speech to another group of boys. The soldier tells the boys what it’s really like in the war and chastises his professor for talking him and his friends into joining. By this point he has seen death and destruction, knowing all it brings is pain and sorrow.

If this moment stayed as a silent movie this scene wouldn’t have been as impactful because you wouldn’t be able to hear the performance of the actor. All of the actors do a fantastic job of communicating a range of different emotions. There’s not one particular main character, rather we follow the boys from their school and how each of them deals with the war. But all of them do a fantastic job of showing just how much this war has taken a toll on them physically and mentally. Some of them have mental breakdowns, some get injured, but most of the characters end up dying because of the cruel nature of the war. Hearing the screams and fear in their voices adds another layer of realism to this film. It’s no wonder that filmmakers ever since this film have been trying to recreate it. Movies like Paths of Glory (1957), Full Metal Jacket (1987) Saving Private Ryan (1998), Platoon (1986), the other countless anti-war movies made in Hollywood and around the world, have been inspired by this movie.

All Quiet on the Western Front is an important film when it comes to film history. It’s one of the most depressing, yet beautiful anti-war movies ever made. It might not seem as gruesome or as politically charged as the other movies I’ve mentioned, but it’s the feeling and tone this movie gives off that sticks with you. For a film that’s over 90-years-old, it doesn’t feel dated. It has a message that will never not be relevant. So long as there is war there will be films like this that come around to show us the horrors of war. And for being one of the first anti-war films to go so far with that message, I think it deserves to be considered the best this genre has to offer.