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.

Revisiting Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast posters © Beauty & The Beast
Beauty and the Beast (1991)

I have not been happy with the state of The Walt Disney Company as of late. Specifically when it comes to their films. With all the remakes of older animated films, Star Wars failures, and Marvel films that no one will be interested in now that all the characters people did care about are gone, this studio doesn’t know what it’s doing anymore. Which is ashamed because they did, at one point in history, know how to make entertaining and meaningful movies. I’ve been slowly working my way through the Disney Renaissance movies, these being the animated movies from 1989 to 1999 that saved Disney from metaphorical and literal bankruptcy, and am still amazed at the amount of artistry and risk taken to create them. But the one film of there’s that sticks out as not only a great animated film, but one of the greatest films ever made considered by critics and audiences, is Beauty and the Beast. And while this isn’t my personal favorite Disney animated movie, I think Beauty and the Beast is pretty damn perfect.

The films prologue, presented in beautiful stain glass pictures, introduces us to the fairy tale atmosphere we are about to enter. A selfish prince turns away an ugly woman who only asks for shelter in exchange for giving him a rose. She reveals herself to be an enchantress and curses the prince to be a beast, as well as the servants in his castle being cursed to be inanimate objects. The Beast (Robby Benson) can only be turned back into a human if someone loves him for himself and he loves them in return before the enchanted rose petals fall. We then cut to Belle (Paige O’Hara), a beautiful bookworm that the townspeople don’t get. The only one who is interested in her is the handsome villain Gaston (Richard White). Belle is thrusted into the story proper when her father goes missing and finds him in the Beasts’ castle. She offers to stay with the Beast in order to get her sick father out of there. The Beast agrees but the two of them don’t see eye to eye at first. But after some of the wacky servants get her used to the castle and the Beast let’s down his guard, the two of them start to develop feelings for each other.

I honestly don’t know why I’m even going over the plot as, let’s be real, everyone has seen this film. It’s been around for 30 years now and almost everyone in the world has either seen it or knows the imagery of it. It was a critical and commercial hit, it got several Academy Award nominations including best picture, which was the first time an animated film was nominated. It even won best original score and original song for “Beauty and the Beast”. So why am I even writing about this? Well, I feel like the world needs to rewatch it to be reminded of just how creative Disney and it’s staff were at one point. Today people are split in the middle with Disney: they either love them or hate them. Most of us have grown up with Disney and can’t mentally distance ourselves from the movies, while others hate the company for spitting out unoriginal movies with no spirit. I agree with both of these schools of thought, but I don’t look at Disney as a whole. I look at the sum of it’s parts as every movie studio has produced it’s share of good and bad movies. I don’t even think all the movies from the Disney Renaissance are good! But there is something about Beauty and the Beast that is such a good film, even when you divorce it from Disney.

For one, it’s a gorgeous looking movie. I’m in love with the animation, colors, and art design on display. The Beasts’ castle is gothic gold, what with its dark colors and hideous gargoyle statues. The design of the Beast is also really unique and the medium of animation really does his character justice. He’s a larger than life figure that seems imposing and scary, but then we get moments of him feeling sorry for Belle when she’s crying over the loss of her father. There’s this small bit of animation of him looking pained and I always love seeing small facial expressions like that as they convey what the characters are thinking more than words ever could. This also extends to the lusciously animated musical scenes from “Be Our Guest”, to “Gaston”, to “Beauty and the Beast” that all look amazing. This movie is the prime example of what 2D animation is capable of that live action can never do.

Also, all the songs are earworms. Once you hear them you’ll never get them out of your head. Alan Menken’s score is so peppy, haunting, and beautiful, and he’s able to cram all these emotions into 92 minutes. But the score would be nothing without Howard Ashman’s Broadway-like lyrics that give all the songs their personalities. Ashman and Menken, having worked on The Little Mermaid (1989), really know how to make a movie musical feel like a Broadway show. And when you have songs this good, you need actors who can sing. Fortunately, this film has you covered as all the actors bring their own voice talents to flesh out not only the singing, but the characters. O’Hara is the standout as she not only has the difficult task of singing most of the emotional songs, but also has to act to sell you on Belle’s personality. And she does all that perfectly as I can’t think of Belle without O’Hara’s voice. You also have character actors filling the comedic and support roles like Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, and Angela Lansbury who are all great. Even White as Gaston plays the perfect role reversal villain. In older Disney films Gaston’s good looks and charm would have made him the hero. But here, these character traits are dangerous and slowly he becomes more and more villainess, to the point where he incites an angry mob to kill the Beast because he’s jealous of him and wants him dead. Gaston is a great villain with a great voice actor and a great villain song. All the songs are important as they not only build this fantastical world, but the characters as well.

I said how Gaston is a great villain because of how he looks and how he’s presented. And that extends to Belle and the Beast. Both characters seem different, but their desires are the same. Belle feels like an outcast because she reads and doesn’t follow the crowd. The Beasts’ outward appearance reflect his insecurities about himself. Both want something more, but are not able to find it on their own. It’s only when they come together and get to know each other that they can see the potential within themselves. When Belle finds out that her father is sick and wants to go home to be with him, the Beast lets her go because he truly loves her. He’s grown from being a selfish beast, to becoming a caring person. Belle, in return, comes back to save the Beast and realizes that she loves him too, thus breaking the spell and the two of them having a happy ending. These two go through the same emotional arc and we see that through their interactions with each other as they go from hating each other to eventually loving each other. That’s why these two characters are so beloved as they have realistic emotional hang-ups that just happen to be set in a magical world.

I don’t think I, nor anyone else, can give Beauty and the Beast enough credit for just existing. It’s a beautiful work of art that manages to tell a heartwarming and loving story. It’s characters, music, animation, singing, voice acting, sound design, and story structure all come together to create a film that can never be duplicated (I’m looking at YOU 2017 live action remake). Given all that though, this still isn’t my personal favorite animated Disney film. I’m split between Alice in Wonderland (1951) and The Lion King (1994) being my all time favorite films (I’ll get to reviewing these two later). But there’s no denying just how impactful and full of creativity Beauty and the Beast really is. There’s a reason why audiences still watch this film and critics still defend it. It’s an important piece of film history and an important film on its own merits. If you’re so burnt out on the current state of Disney and what they’ve been doing for the past 10 years, then watch this to remind yourself what a great Disney movie looks like.

Is Born Yesterday a “Dramedy”?

Born Yesterday (1950 film) - Wikipedia
Born Yesterday (1950)

In film there are many different types of genres. Comedy, drama, horror, romance, action, and many more that can become the base for just one movie. However, many films combine different genres in order to tell a more complex story. One genre combination that is particularly hard to pull off is the comedy/drama, or “dramedy”. This is a genre that’s hard to pull off as these are polar opposites that elicit different emotions. Some movies do this poorly, while others excel in it. Born Yesterday is one of those movies that succeeds in balancing its really funny moments with intense dramatic moments.

We follow the character Billie Dawn (Judy Holliday), a woman who’s a bit of an airhead. She’s married to Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), a tycoon and bully who has moved to Washington D.C. to “persuade” politicians to get what he wants. His lawyer Jim Devery (Howard St. John) tells Brock that if he should get into trouble, he should marry Billie because a wife can’t be forced to testify against her husband. But he feels he can’t because he hates how Billie acts towards him, being ignorant and unruly (even though he’s an even bigger pig). He hires a tutor for her named Paul Verrall (William Holden) to teach her some manners. Billie starts to learn about history, politics, the law, and much more. We learn that she’s actually a very smart woman. After spending time with each other, Paul and Billie start to fall in love. However, their love is tested as Brock becomes more of a monster and it’s up to Billie to stand up to him to show that she’s more than just a pretty face.

The first half of the film is the most comedic as we see the interactions between Brock and Billie. Brock is basically a gangster trying to intimidate his way to the top. Throughout the film he acts like a big shot who invites politicians to his house to show off his money and hot wife. But he’s really a dummy who gets angry and lashes out at everyone. Crawford is hilarious in this role. He’s over-the-top, silly, and a joy to watch in the first half. But his true persona comes out in the second half when he becomes violent. This culminates when he bullies and even hits Billie when he tries to get her to sign an agreement, reminding us he’s an unlikeable character. But the comedic highlight is Holliday as Billie who’s the best character in the story. In the first half she’s seen as the ditsy blonde whose manners are on par with Brock. She drinks, pays no attention to anyone around her, and has the shrillest, yet guttural yell ever. When Brock is having dinner with a politician she puts on loud music, dances, and ignores her guest. And Brock tries, but fails, to control the situation. The yin and yang dynamic of these two is really funny as they both can’t stand each other throughout the movie. 

However, things change when Holden’s character comes on screen. Holden was always great as the everyman with a sarcastic tone. He portrays Verrall as a nice guy, but, if you annoy him, he’ll belittle the hell out of you. Which he does to Brock’s face constantly. Once Verrall starts to teach her, Billie finds out that she can be smart if she puts her mind to it. I really admire this as usually in comedies the good-looking blond girls are always seen as idiots who end up as a trophy for the man. Here she learns more about the world and about herself. As Verrall teaches her about music, history, literature, and law, Billie starts to value this knowledge and even uses it later in the movie to try to get out of her relationship. Billie learns more about herself and sees that she’s not just a pretty face, but that she’s smart and can hold her own against others. This leads to her falling for Verrall as he respects her for her mind and personality, rather than her body. This was extremely bold for the 1950s as most women in movies were characterized as, well, like Billie was in the beginning of the movie. Even today it’s hard to find female leads who want to learn more about themselves.

This is when the drama comes into play in the third act when Billie tries to break up with Brock. The tension comes from Brock becoming more irritable at Billie’s newfound intelligence. In one of the more powerful scenes Billie tells him off saying how she’s not just a good-looking dummy, but an intelligent woman who wants to learn. It’s one powerful scene and Holiday’s performance feels genuine, which ended up in her winning an Academy Award for best actress. This all leads to Billie learning how to stand up for herself and uses her wit to get her a happy ending that feels earned. While there are dramatic scenes in Born Yesterday, it never forgets that it’s also a comedy and as well. The film is great at balancing both its comedic and serious moments that not many films even today can do.

The Grand Illusion is ALMOST Great

Grand Illusion (1937) - Rotten Tomatoes
The Grand Illusion (1937)

The Grand Illusion, or La Grande Illusion if you want to be pedantic about the title, is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. It has extremely high ratings, it practically invented the subgenre of prison break movies, and was the first movie to be put on the Criterion Collection. To most people that last point doesn’t seem like much, but for those super into collecting every Criterion movie like Pokémon cards, having the first spine number is a must have. So, having never seen it and not even knowing what it was about, I sat down to watch it with fresh eyes. And I did really like it… up until the end. Yeah, this is one of those films that has a really strong beginning, but the ending kind of lets it down. Which sucks because it was so close to earning all that praise from critics and audiences alike.

The movie is set in the middle of World War I. Two French officers, Captain de Boëldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin), are captured by the Germans and sent to a prison camp. But these two are too clever and sneaky to be held there too long as them and a few other officers dig a tunnel to escape. However, before they can finish they are sent to another camp, this time a castle, to be held prisoner. This place seems to be harder to escape from as they are watched over by the strict German officer von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim). But the French officers still persist in their escape attempts as they want to go home before the war ends.

If you’ve seen any wartime/prison escape film, chances are those films took a lot of inspiration from The Grand Illusion. This movie has it all: a cast of likeable and quirky characters, menacing yet ineffectual prison guards or authority figures, several escape attempts via tunnels or climbing from high places, prisoners trying to make light of their situation, prisoners put in solitary confinement, prisoners escaping to try to get to safety, and so on. This movie laid down the template for movies like The Great Escape (1963), Stalag 17 (1953), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and a lot more that I can’t think of right now. Even other war movies have taken inspiration from this movie. The best example is during a talent show in the prison, the French get word that the French army has won a battle. The prisoners stop and start to sing their national anthem at the dismay of the German soldiers. I don’t know about you, but that sounds an awful lot like that famous scene from Casablanca (1942) where the French also sing their anthem over a group of Nazis singing their anthem (very suspicious).

But that just goes to show you just how influential this movie really is. I didn’t expect the film to have a sense of humor either like Stalag 17 or The Great Escape. There are a lot of funny moments in the film like one prisoner dressing up as a woman and all the other prisoners stop what they’re doing to ogle him, or getting all the prisoners to play toy flutes to mess with the Germans, or the French officers interactions with the Germans and just messing with them on a daily basis. It’s an oddly funny movie considering the subject matter. But it doesn’t forget to be serious when it needs to be. There’s a real sense of tension when an escape doesn’t go right or when the group almost makes it out but at the last minute are transferred to another camp.

Which was the best thing that could happen because in the second half we are introduced to von Stroheim’s character, von Rauffenstein. While I really do like our heroes as they are funny, charming, and all feel distinct, Raffenstein is the most intriguing. Just looking at him alone tells you a lot about his character as he looks like a proud military man, in a neck brace and always wearing white gloves. He’s a hardened bastard who makes sure there’s order in his prison. But he also has a sense of respect when it comes to our two leads. I’m about to spoil the end since I have a problem with what comes after this moment, but our lead characters escape the castle thanks to Boëldieu’s sacrifice as a decoy. He gets shot and is dying, but on his death bed Rauffenstein comes and comforts him. He sees Boëldieu as an honorable man and puts a flower next to him as he fades away. This moment cements Rauffenstein as the best character and it helps all the more that von Stroheim is so good. Stroheim is most known for his role in Sunset Boulevard (1950) and his directing career with his most famous/infamous film being Greed (1924), which was originally supposed to be an 8 hour film, cut down to 4, then to 2. Stroheim was a weird guy and that weirdness really adds to this character as he’s the most memorable part.

And I honestly think the movie should have ended with that shot of Raffenstein paying his respects to his enemy. But then the movie goes on for another 20 minutes with the escapees finding a farm owned by a single woman and her daughter. Maréchel falls in love with her but can’t stay since they might get caught. He leaves and promises to come back for her. Then he and the other guy, who is with him and I forgot to mention since he isn’t that important, try to cross the border into Switzerland. A couple of German soldiers are about to shoot them but stop saying they crossed the border and can’t do anything. Our heroes live and the credits role. I don’t like this for many reasons. For one, why did we need a love story? This movie was fine as just a prison break and now it’s adding romance in the last 20 minutes for no real reason. You could literally cut this subplot out and miss nothing since the woman and her kid don’t do anything. The other issue I have is that the ending is too happy. I know this was the 1930s and killing your main characters was a “no, no” even in France, but this ending cheapens the overall experience. The movie wasn’t afraid to kill Boëldeiu, so why can’t it end with all of them getting killed? Spoiler warning: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) killed all of its characters and that movie was made 7 years before this one in Hollywood. How is it that the French version has a cookie cutter ending?

It if weren’t for this last 20 minutes and ending, The Grand Illusion would have been great. I can totally see why critics and filmmakers really love this movie. It created a new subgenre, it’s got great characters, a great villain, it’s fasted paced, it’s well shot for a film that’s over 80-years-old, and it balances comedy and drama better than most films today. But that ending really dampens my enjoyment of it. I’m not saying that the characters needed to die, but I feel like this ending could have been handled better. Of course, I think killing off the main characters would have been more jarring but fitting as it would have grounded the story in reality and made for an ending that stays with you. Spoiler warning again: All Quiet on the Western Front and The Bridge on the River Kwia both have endings that do what I said and they’re better movies for it. But if you want to see the progenitor of the prison break genre, then I would suggest stopping the film before the last 20 minutes for a better experience.

Some Like It Hot: Simple Yet Funny

Some Like It Hot (1959) | Marilyn monroe movies, Movie posters, Old movie  posters
Some Like It Hot (1959)

Sometimes the simplest ideas result in the best stories. I’ve always believed that not every movie needs to have a big story with big moments. Some films are better with a little story that goes a long way. This is certainly true with most comedies as the less story there is, the better the comedy hits. Some Like It Hot is one of those comedies with a very small-scale story. But despite having a simple story, the movie becomes one of the funniest movies of all time. This is all thanks to excellent execution with its direction, writing, and acting.

The film is set in Chicago during Prohibition. Two jazz musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), work at a speakeasy run by a group of gangsters. One night they accidentally see a gang shooting and the two have to flee the city. The gangsters know their faces and go after the two with the intent to kill them. Joe and Jerry decide to don disguises as women to join an all-female jazz band heading for Florida. During this time Joe falls in love with the bands singer, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), and he goes back and forth pretending to be a woman and a millionaire to impress her. Meanwhile, Jerry ends up catching the eye of the millionaire Joe is pretending to be named Osgood (Joe E. Brown) and has to try to make sure his secret isn’t found out. All of this happens while the gangsters make their way down to Florida for a gangster meeting.

This is a very simple comedy when you break it down. It’s the story of two guys hiding from the mafia by dressing up as women. It’s a simple premise, but it’s one of the funniest films just because of how simple it is. There are no big themes or lessons the characters have to learn. But it’s their interactions with each other that propel the story forward. Particularly the interactions between Joe and Jerry are what hold the movie together. We follow them as they go through this ridiculous scenario that they themselves got into. But because of their chemistry and, somewhat, quick thinking, they’re fun to watch. But to be fair, everyone else in the story is goofy, and that’s intentional. Characters like Sugar, Osgood, and the gangsters are all endearing because they’re fun and written well. The dialogue is very witty and self-aware of how insane everything is. Even the villains are goofy as they’re all parodies of gangster clichés. The whole film is filled with references to gangster films from the 1930s. One of the gangster characters gimmick is flipping a coin constantly, which is a reference to Scarface (1932). And towards the end one of the gangsters is about to throw a grapefruit in anger like in The Public Enemy (1931). So along with the fun characters and dialogue, it’s also a love letter to old gangster movies. So for those of you who love those old gangster films, you’ll get a kick out of the references.

Still, as simple and goofy as the characters are, they’re still very relatable. Joe and Jerry’s situation is very funny, yet somewhat sympathetic. The two were in the wrong place at the wrong time and in order to not get killed, they have to think outside the box to stay alive. And the first thing they think of is dressing like women because they think the gangsters won’t notice them. Even in such a desperate situation, they easily slip into the role of women very casually. The film makes fun of them for dressing as women because they constantly try to maintain that persona while still acting like themselves. The sequence when they’re on the train to Florida is filled with comedic moments like them sharing bunkers with other women and trying to blend in with them. The movie is never mean spirited towards women or people who like to cross-dress. Rather the movie pokes fun at these two men for being in such a ridiculous situation that they got themselves into. And, on a side note, no one in the world would look at these two men and think they were women even with all the dresses and make-up they wear.

But, again, the entire joke is at the expense of these two buffoons. Even the relationships the two form with their love interest are really funny for opposite reasons. Joe tries to go back and forth with Sugar pretending to be something he’s not. He makes friends with her as a woman, then pretends to be a suave millionaire and takes her on Osgood’s yacht. Jerry has the opposite problem as he tries to convince Osgood not to date him for, obvious reasons. But eventually he starts to fall for him as Osgood impresses him with dancing, dinner, and being the nicest millionaire ever. The two have very different goals when it comes to relationships while never noticing that the villains are slowly creeping up on them towards the end of the film. It plays out more like a Looney Toons cartoon than anything resembling real life. As such, every character is cartoonish, but you can still relate to them.

It goes without saying that the acting is really funny too. Curtis and Lemmon have great chemistry together and they play off of each other well. Curtis does a great job playing a sleazy musician, then a woman, then a bumbling millionaire, all while keeping his charm. Lemmon is at his usual best as he has great comedic timing. He has some of the funniest dialogue and delivers every line with enthusiasm. He probably gives one of the best performances in not only in this movie, but the best performance in his entire acting career (which says a lot coming from a very talented actor). Monroe is also very funny and has great comedic timing. Most people think of her as the ultimate sex symbol of Hollywood. But she had great comedic talent and was very charismatic. She was at her best here and turns in a very funny performance. She plays the ditsy blonde, but she’s incredibly likable and charming. Even the villains, played by George Raft and a few others have great comedic moments. He and the others do a great job at keeping straight faces during very silly moments. Most notably the gangster banquet where everyone is one step away from killing each other, all the while Joe and Jerry are under the tables trying not to be noticed. Brown as Osgood is also hilarious as he plays a goofy millionaire who’s smitten with Jerry. Their back and forth banter is so funny and it’s really fun to see just how far this man will go to be with Jerry. Not to mention that he gets the best line at the end of the film. When Jerry finally shows Osgood he’s a man, Osgood says, “Well, nobody’s perfect”. It’s a perfect ending to one of the silliest comedies of all time.

Shallow Grave: What Money Does to Already Awful People

Shallow Grave (1994) | The Criterion Collection
Shallow Grave (1994)

Danny Boyle’s first major movie Shallow Grave asks the question what would happen if you gave already terrible people a suitcase full of money? Now that seems like a simple and pretty bare bones story that doesn’t need further examination. But honestly, I think there’s a lot going on with this 93 minute, low budget comedy/thriller. It’s 3 lead characters are complex, it has compelling themes, the filmmaking is experimental and exciting, and this is just a great movie to put on for your friends or family who don’t know anything about it. Not knowing the twists and turns this movie takes and watching it for the first time is so much fun that I recommend if you haven’t seen it to stop reading this and go see it. But for those of you wanting to know more, here’s my take on the movie.

The story centers around three flatmates, Juliet (Kerry Fox), David (Christopher Eccleston), and Alex (Ewan McGregor), interviewing for a fourth one in their big and lavish flat. The man they choose, Hugo (Keith Allen), is found in his room dead from a drug overdose. Before they even call the police they find a suitcase full of money. Rather than do the right thing and turn it in, they decide to keep the money and get rid of the body by sawing off Hugo’s limbs and burying him in the woods. Juliet and Alex start to spend some of the money, but David starts to become more possessive of it and goes so far as to hide in the attic with it. All three friends now slowly start to distrust each other and show their true colors to the audience.

Well, that last description isn’t entirely true. The movie opens with the three of them coming off as assholes and the money only brings out the worst in their already bad personalities. When the three of them interview potential flatmates they’re mean spirited to them and even make fun of them to their faces, all while laughing at their own jokes. Our leading characters are portrayed as 20 something-year-old dicks who don’t think about their actions. But what I love is how the introduction of this suitcase full of money really shows the darker side of their already dark characters. The first part of the film has them acting like jackasses, but to them it’s all a joke and they never get hostile. But their first instinct when discovering the dead body is not to call the police, but to decide what to do about the money. It’s really telling that none of them care that their new flatmate is dead, but their more worried about the money and how to deal with the body.

And their characterization only gets darker and more serious after they do get rid of the body. David, who at first comes off as the timid type of the group, slowly starts to become more unhinged and crazy. He’s the one who saws off the hands and feet of the body and bashes his skull in, so he’s become more aware of what he has done and what he is capable of doing. This becomes more apparent when he decides to take the money in the attic and stays up their with it. He feels that since he chopped up a mans body, he has become a real man and wants to hoard the money for as long as he can. Eccleston really sells his descent into madness as he goes from playing a nerdy wimp to a genuine threat. And he gets even crazier as we learn that Hugo stole that money and now the people he stole it from are coming after it. They nearly kill Juliet and Alex getting the money, but David easily kills them and buries them along with Hugo. David has now become the villain as he terrorizes Alex and Juliet by watching their every move as he drills holes in the attic to spy on them. I can safely say that he’s no longer a wimp, but a true monster.

But David is not the only threat. Juliet is no damsel in distress as she’s just as awful as David is. She seems to have her own motivations as the movie goes on. She juggles both the affections of Alex and David so that she can get the money. I won’t spoil the end as it’s something that needs to be seen to appreciate, but her actions are so awful that she ends up being a legitimate threat. Fox is great at pretending to play a weak woman, but is really a psychotic, vindictive woman with her own selfish goals. But to me, the standout performance is McGregor as Alex. This was McGregor’s first movie role and you could tell that this man was a bona fide star. He plays such a snarky, dickish, loud brat in the first half of the film. But after the encounter with the men looking for the money and their murders, he becomes more reserved and chooses his words and actions more carefully. He knows both David and Juliet will probably end up trying to kill him, so he tries to play it cool so he can get the money. And when you figure out what his plan is in the end, it’s so satisfying and you eventually root for a character you probably shouldn’t be rooting for.

Even though the money is what’s causing the rift in these friends relationships, at no point do they decide to just get rid of the money. That’s what really interested me when watching the film again and why I explained the motivations of all three characters. At no point do any of them decide to call the police or turn in the money. All of them want the money and will do anything to keep it away from the other person. It shows that maybe these three were never really that close, or that maybe the money brings out their true colors as terrible people, or that these three represent the realities of what would happen if you found a shit ton of money. Be honest: if you found untraceable money, would you turn it in? Would you not go a little nuts deciding whether to spend it or save it? Would you stab your closest friends in the back to keep the money all to yourself? These are just a few of the many questions you ask yourself when watching Shallow Grave. For a movie that has a lot of humor, fantastic acting, taking place in either the flat or the woods, it all boils down to these very human questions. That’s what keeps me coming back and asking new questions every time I see it.

The Last Detail: A Naval Road Trip

The Last Detail (1973) Original One-Sheet Movie Poster - Original Film Art  - Vintage Movie Posters
The Last Detail (1973)

The 1970s in filmmaking was a very different time. I just don’t mean in how they look, but in more how they feel. Movies from this era were slower paced, the story structure was a little more off, and many of them end the way they start. The ’70s was an experimental time that let filmmakers do whatever they wanted. So when Hal Ashby, director of Shampoo (1975), Being There (1979), and Harold and Maude (1971) steps in to do a movie about navy officers going on a road trip, you bet it’s going to be weird and off-kilter.

Well, technically this isn’t your typical road trip movie. The story is about two naval officers, Billy Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Mule Mulhall (Otis Young), escorting Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to a military prison. Meadows was charged with theft and is sentenced to eight years in prison where both Buddusky and Mulhall have one week to get him there. During their trip they learn more about Meadows and decide to let him live a little before he gets to jail. This includes seeing his mother, beating up marines, going to parties, and hiring a prostitute. As you can imagine, tomfoolery ensues. But there’s a much darker side to these characters as we become more invested in them.

The most interesting thing about this film is how it’s told in the format of a road trip story. Stories like this are usually character studies where we have a group of colorful people we get to know over the course of the run time. Said characters are put in fun, weird, or scary scenarios depending on where they go on the trip. And the characters end up changing and learning about each others problems and how to solve them by the end. This movie takes that formula and decides to give us only surface level details about the characters and letting us fill in the blanks. For example, the first time we meet Buddusky he’s hungover and really does not want to take this job. We get small details about his life like how he had a wife and that he was going to be a TV repairman but couldn’t do it. But it’s his actions and dialogue that make up his character. He comes off as mean, rude, and resistant to people higher in the military than him. At one point he almost threatens to shoot a bartender for not serving Meadows a drink and beats the shit out of some marines in a public bathroom. He’s unhinged, but he has a sense of morality when it comes to his interactions with Meadows.

Since Meadows is going to a military prison for eight years, both Buddusky and Mulhall think the kid should live a little. Both of them think it’s ridiculous that he’s being sent to prison for such a minor offense and that they hate this job. At one point Meadows is caught stealing and tries to run from the two, which leads them to believe there might be something else wrong with him. We are even shown that his home life probably wasn’t the best. Buddusky and Mulhall take Meadows to see his mom, only to find a trashed living room with bottles and clothes everywhere. We get the sense that Meadows was, and always will be, screwed because of what he did. But Buddusky and Mulhall can’t do anything about it because they have their orders or they’ll get arrested. At the end when they turn in Meadows they both agree that the military system is bullshit, but they still go back to it because they have nothing else to do. They’re lifers in the navy so, where would they go?

While some of the movie is dark and has a bleak ending, there’s still some funny stuff here. There a lot of funny moments like the three of them having a fun time in New York City, getting drunk in a hotel room, going to a party and failing to get laid, and other silly things happen on this road trip. While the trip doesn’t change the characters like in other films, the formula still puts them in funny situations. It’s funny in a relatable way where everything looks and feels so natural that you would be shocked to find out that this is just a movie and not a true story. The film was shot on location in Washington D.C., New York City, and Boston to give it a sense of realism. And as we all know in the ’70s all of these cities just looked so beautiful in their smog and greenish hue trashiness (and you think things are bad today). The acting is also really natural, like the actors were told to improve. Quaid and Young both do a great job at portraying their totally different characters, but Nicholson steals the show. He’s playing a show-off who’s really pissed at the world and he plays that role well. Nicholson is always so bizarre, yet natural when it comes to off-beat roles like this and he’s really the highlight.

Listen: I like road trip movies, I like movies from the 1970s, I like dark comedies, I like Hal Ashby, and I like Jack Nicholson. So of course I liked The Last Detail as it checks all those boxes on my list. I think the only thing that might alienated some of you would be the pacing. As I said the pacing in films from the ’70s is so different than the films of today. But if you look at this a more of an indie movie, because of how natural everything looks and feels, then you might want to give it a chance. If you look at it as a slow, bleak, darkly humorous road trip movie, then you’ll see what I mean.

The Artist: A Silent Film in the 21st Century

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The Artist (2011)

The Artist is essentially a French directors love letter to silent cinema. Director Michel Hazanavicius made this film as a passion project. Many French filmmakers were greatly inspired by early Hollywood cinema and he wanted to recreate a silent film for a 21st century audience. His cast and crew were mostly French and he had worked with the two leads, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, before in other films. However, this might be the most meta-Hollywood movie made in the past few decades. Hell, you could say it was made as an homage to movies about Hollywood like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and A Star is Born (1937, 1954 specifically). This idea paid off for him as the film won several Academy Awards including best actor for Dujardin, best director, and best picture.

The film takes place in late 1920s Hollywood, where silent movies are king. Silent film actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and his dog Jack (Uggie the dog) are the biggest stars in the world. While working on a new film, he starts to fall in love with Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an up-in-coming actress. As the two get to know more about each other however, the invention of sound films starts to creep into Valentin’s life. The studio he works for has switched over to sound films and he can’t seem to get a job.  As his popularity fades, Peppy becomes a big star. Their love is put to the test as fame and fortune try to tear the two apart.

This movie is a great introduction to those unfamiliar with silent movies. Silent movies can be a bit difficult for a new person to grasp onto as, well, they’re silent. Before the invention of sound in the late 1920s, all films were made silent, with only title cards that had important dialogue and information written on them. What’s so interesting about silent movies is how filmmakers used only the visuals to tell a story. Actors were also a big part of telling the stories as they used their body language and facial expressions to make their characters standout. To a 21st century audience these films my look over-the-top and silly. But remember how I said that the director of this film was French? Silent films were not only big in America, but they were big all over the world as you didn’t need language to tell a silent story. Many filmmakers from all over the world would become inspired by these movies.

This movie is a big love letter to all silent films. Several scenes feel like they’re taken straight from other silent films. Hell, at one-point Valentin’s character watches The Mark of Zorro (1920), which is an homage to the types of movies Valentin was making. Even some of the shots look like they’re from a different time. Most of the cinematography is static as it tries to capture the static nature of silent filmmaking. But this is mainly due to the fact that cameras made over 100 years ago were so big and clunky that they couldn’t move around as much as newer ones. So, there are no zooms and there are very few tracking shots and differing camera angles within the film. The only time when the camera does move is when there is an important event happening. A prime example being when Valentin’s house catches on fire and Jack, the dog, runs to get help. This makes the scene exciting and tense as the camera follows his every move.

But what the camera movements lack in, the story telling makes up for. This is a compelling love story where the main characters love is tested throughout the film. When Valentin and Peppy meet for the first time it’s completely by accident. Peppy, a fangirl who’s attending his film premiere, bumps into him. But over time the two of them form a deep connection. But this connection is also nearly torn apart as Peppy’s fame rises and Valentin is forgotten about. Years go by as Peppy can only look on, heartbroken, as Valentin loses everything. There’s a specific reason why she takes so long in coming back into his life later, but that’s a big spoiler. The story itself is similar in story to A Star is Born. Both stories have famous actors (or singers depending on the version you’ve seen) who fall in love with an up-in-coming starlet who ends up eclipsing his fame. But it’s the details that make these movies different as this movie has, let’s say, a happier ending than A Star is Born (no spoilers for either film).

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the character of George Valentin who’s a mash-up of silent film stars like Rudolph Valentino, the great sex symbol of the silent era, and Douglas Fairbanks, the biggest action star of both the silent and talkie era. Valentin is this good-looking superstar who makes big budget action movies. The first time you see him on screen after his film premiere, he takes a bow with his co-starring dog, not his leading lady. He has a bit of an ego, but he’s still very charming and fun. It helps too that Dujardin is extremely likeable, funny, and plays the part of a silent superstar so well. Especially every time he interacts with his dog Jack, which are always fun scenes. This also might be one of the best dog performances as Uggie is a natural talent who can keep his own with the human actors. But Valentin is also a tragic figure. His fame is brought down by the studio system which he helped make big. Once the talkies started to become big money makers, the studio fires him because he can’t keep up with this new trend. He’s no longer an actor who can draw in audiences. This character parallels what happened to many real stars of this era as many lost jobs because they didn’t acclimate to sound well enough.

On the opposite end we have Peppy. She was a nobody who loves Hollywood, and also loves Valentin. At first, she’s just happy to be around Valentin. When she’s in his dressing room she fanaticizes about being in his arms with his coat. It’s a cute scene that shows she’s a loving, bubbly woman. Over time though, as she starts to get more leading roles, she quickly becomes famous. However, she realizes that fame doesn’t make her happy, but being with Valentin did. While her initial goal was to become successful, she remembers why and how she became famous. One night she watches outtakes from one of the movies she and Valentin made together. She sees how happy she was with him and she soon realizes that she really wants to be with him. Bejo does an excellent job at being peppy (no pun intended), sweet, sad, and relatable.

If you’re new to silent movies then The Artist is a perfect first watch. It eases you into how silent films work. There are a lot of great silent movies out there, some of which I’ve already reviewed, but this is a great primer for those unfamiliar with them. It’s funny, dramatic, pointe, and made by people from another country who love and respect the classics of Hollywood cinema.

Why I Love the “Freaks” in Freaks (1932)

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Freaks (1932)

When Dracula and Frankenstein came out in 1931, they were huge successes for Universal Studios. MGM Studios, a rival production company, saw that success and wanted to capitalize on it. So, they decided to make their own horror film. This resulted in them making Freaks, and it was a huge bomb critically and commercially. Audiences thought it was too weird and critics thought it was repugnant and in poor taste. Today it’s received more positively and many people think it’s one of the best horror movies ever made. This movie is extremely weird, bold, and shocking to the point where you can’t even believe some of the shit they put in the movie. It’s one of the weirdest horror films ever made and is one hell of a watch!

The film follows a traveling circus with a freakshow. Hans (Harry Earles), a midget, is lovestruck by the trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). He does everything to win her affection and it pays off as she decides to marry him. He even ignores his current girlfriend Frieda (Daisy Earles). However, Cleopatra doesn’t really love him, rather she loves the money that he has inherited. She really plans to steal his money by killing him and running off with her lover, Hercules (Henry Victor), the strong man. But this plan is found out by the other sideshow freaks and they decide to take matters into their own hands. The freaks plan their revenge and intend to turn the two normal people into one of them.

Most of the main cast is made up of actual freakshow performers. Since sideshows and freakshows were popular during this era it would make sense for the filmmakers to cast real freakshow performers. The studio hired very famous pinheads, midgets, armless, legless freakshow performers to make the movie seem more authentic. All the other actors were unknowns, so the budget was spent on getting the sideshow performers who were apparently divas on the set. The acting is really great as the freakshow performers are the real stars of the movie. Earles who plays Hans is very compelling and you really sympathize with him. All he wants is to feel normal, which is why he wants to marry the beautiful trapeze artist. You also feel for Daisy Earles, Frieda, and Harry Earles’s real life wife. She tries her hardest throughout the film to get his love while supporting him at the same time. She’s too nice for her own good as she lets Hans slip from her and she can’t bring herself to tell him her true feelings.

This is all deliberate as the movie makes you side with the freaks. The film makes the freaks feel like a real family unit. One of the most famous scenes in the movie is where they’re having a party to celebrate Hans and Cleopatra’s wedding. They start to sing a song about how Cleopatra has become one of them. It’s a creepy scene as it demonstrates how bizarre their world is, but it’s also joyous as they’re having so much fun. You sympathize with the freakshow performers as you’re immersed in their world. And when anyone outside their circle tries to harm one of them, you know they will do anything to protect each other.

The film is so good at making you root for the freaks, you start to see the “normal” characters as the real monsters. Cleopatra is the central villain of the story. She makes it known from the beginning as she manipulates Hans and pretends to love him. She doesn’t care about him or the other freaks and constantly makes fun of them. At one point during their party, when she’s drunk, she embarrasses Hans by pouring booze on him and making Hercules carry him around like a baby. Then she calls them monsters and freaks because she thinks she’s the normal one. Her character shows us that “normal” looking people can be ugly on the inside.

This all comes together in one of the best climaxes in horror cinema. After Cleopatra and Hercules are found out by the freaks, they decide to deal with them in their own way. Hercules and Cleopatra throughout the film constantly make fun of the freaks and see them as monsters. So, the freaks surround the two, in the dark and rain, and chase them. It’s a terrifying sequence as it has no music and the only thing you can hear is the rain and screams. The resulting scene is scary, creepy, and unnerving. Apparently, it was so terrifying that the original ending was cut, and this part of the film no longer exist. This suggests that the first ending was a lot more violent and scary. Of course, what we do get with Freaks is a terrifying ending with a terrifying last image that has be seen to believe.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925): The First Monster Movie

The Phantom of the Opera 1925 Movie Poster Lithograph - DaVinci Emporium
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

When talking about The Phantom of the Opera, most people know about the musical version from 1986. The original story comes from Gaston Leroux back in 1911, and since then there have been several movie versions. However, the first known filmed version of this story comes from the 1925 Universal Pictures film. And with it being the first, all the other movie versions and the musical borrow heavily from it, making it very influential. Not only did this film establish Universal as a serious movie studio, but it’s considered to be one of the first monster/horror movies.

The story takes place at the Paris Opera House in the late 19th century. A young singer named Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin) has been given the opportunity to become the star of the opera. This is thanks to the mysterious opera ghost who has been threatening the theater with mayhem if Christine doesn’t perform. With her rising star, she captures the attention of childhood friend the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry). But before Raoul can confess his feelings to her, Christine finds herself beneath the opera house and in the hands of the phantom named Erik (Lon Chaney). The Phantom, which is what he’s referred to in the entire film, is a mysterious figure who lives underground, plays the organ, sleeps in a casket, and wears a mask that covers his face. Christine wants to know what the Phantom looks like, so she pulls off his mask. But this was a bad idea as it turns out he has the most horrifying face imaginable. Distraught, angry, and heartbroken, the Phantom lets Christine go. But he becomes jealous of Raoul and Christine’s love for each other. So, the Phantom becomes the enemy of the entire opera and the two lovers have to find a way to stop him before something horrible happens.

What makes this one of the first monster movies is Lon Chaney’s make-up effects. Chaney has been dubbed “The Man of a Thousand Faces” as for almost every role he would use make-up to become a different person. Some of his most famous roles include The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Unknown (1927), and London After Midnight (1927), a film that has been lost to time but is famous for the make-up. This is defiantly his best work as his make-up is unique and unforgettable. The unmasking scene in is one of the most famous silent film moments. Not only is it an unpredictable scene, but the make-up itself is so scary that it will stay in your memory forever. But it’s not just the face that’s scary as Chaney’s performance is riveting. Today, silent movie acting can seem too over-the-top and silly. Chaney used this to his advantage as he played over-the-top characters. And I mean that as a complement as the character of the Phantom goes all the way with his emotions. He can be scary, sympathetic, crazy, angry, and scheming all within the same scene. A perfect example of this is when he’s first unmasked. At first, he’s shocked, then angry at Christine, then he becomes sad, and finally he calms down. This scene shows off the emotions of the make-up work and his character.  He also acts a lot with his hands as the first half of the film you don’t see the Phantom, only his hands. Chaney had deaf parents growing up, so he learned to use sign language. This is why he does a lot of acting with his hands, making his performance stand out. With the combination of great acting and make-up effects, Chaney’s version of the Phantom is the most well remembered out of all the Phantoms.

There are some pretty hooky things in the film that do date it though. While Chaney’s performance was sometimes over-the-top, it still had a lot of layers and is compelling to watch. All the other actors are over-the-top because that was the style of acting at the time. There’s also the problem with the ending as well. Not to spoil anything, but this ending, out of all the other adaptations, is the worst and misses the point of the original theme of the story. But all that still doesn’t take away from the film. The sets are some of the most elaborate in any silent movie. Especially the opera and the main entrance which look stunning as they look massive. You get a real sense of how big this opera house is and all the mysterious things that lie underneath it. Also, try to find the version of this movie with the colored masquerade scene. It was originally filmed in two-strip technicolor and looks stunning. In particular when the Phantom comes in wearing his red cape, hat, and skull mask, he looks so cool that you almost forget that he’s a murdering monster.

You could consider this to be one of the first major horror films. It has some scary imagery and the Phantom is a creepy character. This movie was very influential and would later lead to the era of horror movies made in the 1930s and 1940s. Films like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Wolfman (1941) were all made because of the success of The Phantom of the Opera.

The Towering Inferno: A ’70s Disaster Film at its Finest

The Towering Inferno (1974) - IMDb
The Towering Inferno (1974)

In the 1970s people were obsessed with a subgenre of film known as disaster films. These were big budget movies dealing in natural or man-made disasters that were filled with A-list actors. Movies like Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974), The Swarm (1978), and a ton of others like this made a lot of money. They were the like the superhero or action films we watch today. There were two main reasons for why they were so popular. The first is that these were high budget, special effects driven movies that relied on spectacle over story. The second is that they were filled with the most popular actors at the time interacting with each other. The power of the movie star I think was much bigger back then as these movies grossed enough money to feed an entire nation. These are fun, harmless action films that are charming by todays standards. The Towering Inferno was one of the biggest disaster movies of this era and a good first for those of you unfamiliar with the subgenre.

The film is set in San Francisco as a newly built tower called the Glass Tower, which is said to be the tallest in the world, is set to open. The buildings architect, Doug Roberts (Paul Newman), sees that there are still some technical issues with the electricity and notices that safety measures have been cut. The towers developer, James Duncan (William Holden), ignores Roberts’ concerns as he is hosting an opening party at the top of the tower. Of course, something goes wrong as an electric box on the 81st floor explodes and starts a fire that starts to engulf the building. The SFFD arrives and leading them is 5th Battalion Chief Michael O’Halloran (Steve McQeen). O’Halloran, his team, and Roberts try to save as many people as they can while also trying to figure out how to put out the raging fire.

Even though the plot is super simple, the film does take a long time to get to the actual disaster. The first 40 minutes of the film sets up all the major characters and plot devices that you will see throughout the next 2 hours. This was common among these disaster films because they crammed in so many actors that they all needed at least 5 minutes of screen time to establish their characters. Not only are we introduced to Roberts and Duncan, we’re also introduced to Roberts’ fiancée, Duncan’s daughter, his son-in-law, who was the one who cut corners on the electricity in the building, we meet a ton of side characters who live or work in the building, two kids, and a cat. Hell, we don’t even see McQueen until about 45 minutes into the film, so we learn about his character as he interacts with the other actors. However, the disaster itself starts off pretty early on as the electrical box explodes, but no one notices it until it becomes a much bigger threat. This was probably done on purpose too as we know what is happening, but the characters don’t, which is pretty suspenseful.

But once that fire gets bigger and spreads, it’s non-stop action. We see people getting engulfed in flames, floors explode and stairways becomes unusable, elevators trap and dangle people off the edge of the building, fire fighters scale down the elevator shafts, helicopters explode, and so many people fall out of the building or get burned to death. This film doesn’t shy away from how frightening this disaster would be. We see the panic and fear in people’s faces and you can’t help but think what you would do in that scenario. I think that also might be another reason for the success of these movies. Because there are so many characters, you can project yourself onto any of them and wonder what you would do. The practical and special effects hold up pretty damn well for a movie that’s almost 50 years old. Some of the greenscreen effects are pretty noticeable, there are a lot of matte paintings that look a little dated, and the film slows down shots of the stuntmen being set on fire. But the practical fire effects look really good by todays standards and the stunt work itself is really great. I feel really sorry for the stuntmen and actual fire fighters that had to deal with these real fires. But you can defiantly see every dollar used on screen as it looks great.

And the cast is filled to the brim with A-list stars. Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones, Richard Chamberlin, Roberts Wagner, and a ton of other actors you’ve probably seen are in this one movie. Some of them get more screen time than other, while some only get a few moments. Astaire I think only gets a few lines and Dunaway gets even less than him. But when you have so many characters you’re not going to see all your favorites getting a lot of screen time. The ones who get the most are Newman, McQueen, and Holden. Newman and McQueen were super stars at the time and they’re both actually good. Newman has his action movie moments as he saves a little girl, climbs down a broken stairway, and helps save the day. McQueen also has his moments as he seems to be doing a lot of his own stunt work. Both of them play cool, confident characters that anyone would be envious of. But I think the MVP goes to Holden. He has the most character as he starts off as a greedy businessman who wants to impress his audience. At one point he tells Newman’s character to take care of the fire while he keeps his party going. But once he learns that the fire is much worse and the safety devices in the building are faulty, thanks to his dickhead son-in-law, he changes his mind and starts to help people escape and even helps Newman and McQueen in the end. He’s the only person with a character arc and I appreciate that he doesn’t phone in his performance. Also O.J. Simpson is in this film and… let’s move on.

I also like this film because, unlike the examples I mentioned earlier, this one has a message. The whole reason why this disaster happens at all is because corners were cut and no one was prepared for a disaster. They thought that because this was a brand new building with state-of-the-art technology that nothing bad would happen. But because most of the money was pocketed by Duncan and his son-in-law, those safety devices ended up not working. So when the fire starts no one knows about it until hours after it has spread throughout the building. This is a disaster that could have been avoided if the powers that be had cared more. It was man’s hubris to build towers to challenge nature that lead to the characters undoing. Even at the end Duncan warns the audience that if we keep building towers like this the same events will happen. Back in the 1970s skyscrapers like that didn’t really exist, but today, with so many skyscrapers, this disaster seems and is very plausible.

Ok, that last paragraph was me stretching a lot for some thematic weight. But at the end of the day The Towering Inferno is a fun, exciting, and scary disaster movie. It’s a movie you don’t have to think too hard about as it’s story and characters are simple enough for anyone to get. These films didn’t want to make any political or sociological statements. These films were made to showcase special effects and to have a cast of your favorite actors all in one place. If you go into this movie with that mindset then I think you’ll see why the disaster subgenre was so big in the ’70s.