Sunday, April 11, 2010

#2: The Godfather

#2: The Godfather
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola; based on the novel "The Godfather" by Mario Puzo

When talking about movies as iconic as The Godfather (and to a lesser extent, The Shawshank Redemption), you can hardly say things that haven't already been said about fifteen million times. I'm no authority on cinematography. I'd be the last person on the planet that could critique Francis Ford Coppola, let alone any of the brilliant performances by any of the actors. Pacino and Brando especially are fantastic and, I dare say, cutting-edge in this seminal mob film.

The original score is haunting, and mournful. One of my theories on the film is that the entire thing is just one big requiem to organized crime as it was before World War II, and the music conveys that perfectly.

Pacino's performance is so remembered in the Godfather (although rightfully, in Brando's shadow), because he is not playing as what he is normally typecast: a man, often with a chip on his shoulder, armed with a short temper. In Godfather, he is more calm and reserved than in any other role. It's sad that his versatility has been so untapped in recent years. If you reflect on Pacino's career, Godfather is likely a highlight, but certainly contradicts the majority of his resume.

In contrast, Marlon Brando's performance in Godfather is probably the most iconic in all of film. The first impression you get of him is that he is a pure model of masculinity; he despises showing weakness, and never mixes business with personal matters.

Above all, I love this film because of the intertwining story arcs culminating in the definitive conclusion. It's almost a metaphor for the film itself, what with Don Vito calling the shots of every individual player.

The importance of family. The corruption of power. Earning respect. Themes like these have been present in secular media since the dawn of writing. I've never read or seen anything that succeeds in all of these areas to an extent of The Godfather.

Storytelling at its finest.

Overall Score (Out of 10, unweighted): 10

Saturday, April 10, 2010

#1: The Shawshank Redemption

Before the review, I'd like to touch on a few things. When deciding to take on this project, I had a few questions in mind.

Q: Would I watch the movies in order?
A: Yes, I'm going to do everything in my power to watch the movies in order. I will make arrangements to acquire the movies in advance of their viewing. The purpose of this is to nail down why some of these movies are universally viewed and loved, and why others are viewed more rarely, but those who see them love them almost as equally.

Q: Would I watch them from the bottom up, or the top down?
A: The answer to this was (initially) easy. I've seen so many of the top 50, that I could write my thoughts on them without really having to watch the movie too closely. I can recite so much of the script to Shawshank, it's ridiculous. That turned out to be horribly wrong.

Q: What do I *really* want from this?
A: I'm tossing around the idea of seriously pursuing journalism. I've been told all my life that I'm opinionated and entertaining. I know my writing chops aren't exactly up to snuff, but I feel that combining something I love (film) with something I need to become to be successful, (being objective, giving my opinion in an entertaining manner) would be a recipe for success.

#1: The Shawshank Redemption
Director: Frank Darabont
Writer: Frank Darabont; Based on the Short Story "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King

When I started this project, I assumed that it would be easiest to work from the top down. I had already seen such a higher percentage of the films within the top 50 than any other section of the list. I found only one thing: reviewing a film that you consider to be your very favorite is difficult; being objecti0ve is even tougher.

The film opens, unnarrated, as we witness the fall of Andy Dufresnse. We see the courtroom, the prosecutor, the sentence. The film cuts at various times throughout this sequence only to show us everything we need to see to convict him as well. The opening sequence ends showing us Andy's entrance to Shawshank prison.

However, this isn't a synopsis, this is a review.

The Shawshank Redemption is a powerful film. It covers issues such as police brutality, institutionalization, rape in the prison systems, literacy gaps among social classes, and how absolute power corrupts - absolutely. Thematically, however, is where the film truly shines. Perseverance, friendship, and the unwavering human spirit are what this movie is about.

The character development in this story is exactly what any movie about prison should be. We honestly don't know anything about anyone in the film, except that they're indeed prisoners. Everyone claiming innocence, it's ironic to me that you absolutely love every single one of these cons. Except for the rapists, you never truly feel bad for any of them; they feel quite at home inside the confines of the prison.

Oh, the music. Every song on the soundtrack strikes a particular chord for me; from the Ink Spots "If I didn't care", to Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," the soundtrack was brilliant. The original score portrayed sadness and gloom.

Every actor in this film gave the performance of their lives. Red (Morgan Freeman) plays a grizzled black marketeer, who befriends Andy Dufresnse(Tim Robbins) shortly after his arrival at Shawshank. Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) is someone you truly grow to hate.

The Shawshank Redemption holds a special place in my heart not only because of its obvious cinematic integrity. It was filmed almost in its entirety about 30 minutes from where I sit right now. Cinematography outside the Mansfield, Ohio reformatory was absolutely beautiful. Inside the walls, the shots were 'routine', using the same angles over and over; you almost got used to them, making the cinematography itself symbolism towards the theme of institutionalization.

If there was any film that defines the word "perfect" to me, it is The Shawshank Redemption. It's awful hard to find flaws in something that is the reason you love something (in my case, film) so much. The only thing I would change about this film is the development of "Red," Morgan Freeman's character. I wish we knew more about him, but I suppose that's the point. Andy loves him unconditionally, for saving his life on the inside.

This movie has inspired me to move on and do things with my life that I never intended. Truly to "Get busy living, or get busy dying."

Overall Score (Out of 10, unweighted): 10

Friday, April 9, 2010

IMDB top 250 project.

So I've decided to embark on an ambitious project. I'm going to watch the entire IMDB top 250 movies of all time. After each one, I'm going to post a paragraph (or more, if the movie drives me) summarizing my thoughts on it. I hope to get it done in about a year, maybe less as there will be days where I'll have time to watch more than one.

The rules are simple.

1. I will watch all 250 movies. Those that I've seen before, I'm going to go into with an open mind, and really try to nail down the essence of each one. I will not be skipping ANY, except in the case of rule #2.

2. In the event that I cannot locate a DVD or Blu-ray copy of any given film on the top 250, I will not be replacing it with 251, it will simply have to be omitted.

3. If I don't update for more than a week, consider the project a failure. The reason I'm doing this is twofold: to sharpen my writing chops, and to actually complete something.

4. Preferably I'd like to watch these films in the order they are on the IMDB top 250. If, for some reason, one film is available (via rental or otherwise) to me, and the one I'm on is not, I'll skip one or a couple in favor of a more readily available film.

5. I will give a 1 to 10 rating on every film that I watch. This is an overall score, and not weighted by any particular criteria. You may find it arbitrary, but it will provide a more substantial vantage point for how I feel about a film as a whole.

Here's the list.

(X indicates I've seen it)

The Shawshank Redemption - X
The Godfather - X
The Godfather: Part II - X
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) -
Pulp Fiction - X
Schindler's List - X
12 Angry Men -
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - X
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back - X
The Dark Knight - X
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King - X
Star Wars - X
Casablanca -
Shichinin no samurai -
Goodfellas - X
Fight Club - X
Cidade de Deus -
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring - X
Raiders of the Lost Ark - X
Rear Window -
The Usual Suspects - X
Psycho -
C'era una volta Il West (Once Upon a Time in the West) -
Silence of the Lambs - X
The Matrix - X
Se7en - X
Memento - X
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - X
It's a Wonderful Life - X
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb -
Sunset Blvd -
North by Northwest -
Citizen Kane -
Leon -
Apocalypse Now -
Forrest Gump - X
American Beauty -
American History X - X
Taxi Driver - X
Vertigo -
Terminator 2: Judgment Day - X
Lawrence of Arabia -
Alien -
Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain -
Saving Private Ryan - X
A Clockwork Orange - X
The Shining - X
Paths of Glory -
The Departed - X
The Pianist -
To Kill a Mockingbird - X
Aliens - X
Sen to Chihiro No kamikakushi (Spirited Away) -
Das Leben der Anderen -
M -
Double Indemnity -
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - X
Chinatown -
Requiem for a Dream - X
The Third Man -
Reservoir Dogs - X
L.A. Confidential - X
Das Boot -
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre -
Monty Python and the Holy Grail - X
City Lights -
El laberinto del fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) - X
The Bridge on the River Kwai -
Inglorious Basterds -X
Avatar -
Raging Bull - X
The Prestige - X
Back to the Future - X
Up - X
2001: a Space Odyssey -
La vita e bella -
Singin in the Rain -
Modern Times -
Der Untergang -
Some Like it Hot -
Amadeus - X
Full Metal Jacket -
Nuovo cinema Paradiso -
The Maltese Falcon -
Braveheart - X
Gran Torino - X
Rashomon -
Once Upon a Time in America - X
All about Eve -
The Green Mile -
Metropolis -
The Elephant Man -
Slumdog Millionaire - X
Sin City - X
The Great Dictator -
Rebecca -
The Apartment -
The Sting -
Gladiator - X
The Great Escape - X
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - X
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi - X
Ladri di biciclette -
Unforgiven -
Jaws - X
Batman Begins - X
Blade Runner - X
Die Hard - X
Hotel Rwanda -
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -
On the Waterfront -
No Country for Old Men - X
Oldboy -
Det Sjunde inseglet -
Touch of Evil -
Fargo - X
District 9 - X
Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke) -
The Wizard of Oz - X
Per qualche dollaro in piu -
Heat - X
Strangers on a Train -
Cool Hand Luke -
Donnie Darko - X
High Noon -
The Sixth Sense -
Notorious (1946) -
There Will Be Blood -
The Deer Hunter - X
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) -
Annie Hall -
The Wrestler - X
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 - X
Snatch - X
The General -
Platoon - X
The Big Lebowski - X
Yojimbo -
Ben-Hur -
Into the Wild -
Ran -
The Big Sleep -
Million Dollar Baby - X
In Happened One Night -
The Lion King - X
Life of Brian - X
Witness for the Prosecution -
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -
The Bourne Ultimatum - X
Smultronstallet -
Finding Nemo -
Trainspotting -
Stand By Me -
Star Trek (2009) -
The Graduate -
The Terminator - X
Gone With the Wind - X
Toy Story - X
Groundhog day - X
Scarface - X
The Thing (1982) -
Amores Perros -
Ratatouille - X
Dog Day Afternoon - X
Gandhi -
V for Vendetta -
The Gold Rush -
The Grapes of Wrath -
Le salaire de la peur (Wages of Fear) -
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - X
8 1/2 -
Twelve Monkeys - X
Les diaboliques -
Casino - X
The Night of the Hunter -
The Princess Bride - X
Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies) -
The Incredibles - X
The Killing -
Judgment at Nuremberg -
Kind Hearts and Coronets -
The Wild Bunch -
Children of Men -
In Bruges -
The Exorcist - X
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927, this may be hard to find.) -
Le notti di Cabiria -
The Best years of Our Lives -
The Kid -
The Hustler -
Dial M for Murder -
Harvey -
Ed Wood - X
Good Will Hunting - X
Rosemary's Baby - X
Big Fish - X
King Kong (1933) - X
A Streetcar Named Desire -
Letters from Iwo Jima -
Lat den ratte komma in (Let the Right one In) -
Sleuth -
Shadow of a Doubt -
Stalag 17 -
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 - X
Le scaphandre et le papillon -
Magnolia -
Mystic River - X
Rocky - X
Crash - X
Brief Encounter -
The AFrican Queen -
Network -
Rope -
Bonnie and Clyde -
Duck Soup -
Manhattan -
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button -
La strada -
La battaglia di Algeri -
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl - X
Shutter Island - X
Wo hu cang long -
Changeling -
Patton -
The Conversation -
Little Miss Sunshine - X
Planet of the Apes (1968) - X
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) -
Les quatre cents coups -
The Nightmare Before Christmas - X
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -
All Quiet on the Western Front -
Barry Lyndon -
Anatomy of a Murder -
Mulholland Dr. (2001) - X
The Lady Vanishes -
Shaun of the Dead - X
Spartacus -
Glory - X
The Truman Show - X
Tonari no Totoro -
Monsters, Inc. - X
The Philadelphia Story -
Toy Story 2 - X
Arsenic and Old Lace -
His Girl Friday -
Brazil -
Edward Scissorhands - X
Mou gaan dou -

That's 110 of the top 250 that I've seen. The vast majority of the one's I haven't are not from what I would consider 'modern' film.

I'd like to consider this an open forum to post whatever you feel about the films as I watch them. Consider it a group project if you want; watch the films as I do - skip the ones you don't care to see.