Satires can be difficult to do well and difficult for audience to get. For one thing, unless an audience is familiar with the source material, the joke (and, in fact, the whole point of the satire) falls flat. So, Dean Perisot took a bit of a risk with this Star Trek send-up. Doubling that risk, Star Trek fans tend to be the loyal sort who can get pretty militant about put downs of their obsession, so the very people most likely to get the jokes were apt to be the people most likely to get offended and angry at the jokes. That's a tall order with a low chance of success. However, somehow Perisot and the rest of the cast and crew of Galaxy Quest managed to walk that line and create a true satirical classic.
Part of the reason for the film's success comes from the way the source material is treated. Though satirical of, and in some cases outright sarcastic about, many of the sillier elements of the Star Trek series, the film comes off more as an homage than a dig. The characters are drawn and performed as likeable, honorable, and capable as well as flawed and goofy. The dialogue pokes fun at itself at the beginning of the film and then becomes actually meaningful as the action progresses. The film offers even non-Trek-familiar audiences enough action and comedy to entertain, and enough romance and human relationships to offer an emotional connection. The performances truly engage (especially Sam Rockwell as Guy and Tony Shalhoub as Fred Kwan), the special effects impress (while still holding to the absurd look of the source material), and the writing pleases (with enough wit to be funny and natural at the same time). All of which combine to create a playful, funny, and truly exceptional example of great film satire.
Premier auteur director, Alfred Hitchcock, gives his audience a good hard look at the lives of their neighbors in this classic thriller. Arguably his best (and most well-known) film next to his 1960 shocker, Psycho, Rear Window has quickened pulses and induced paranoia for more than 60 years. Televised often, and part of many many home collections, the film certainly withstands the test of time, and entertains as well today as it did in its own time.
The compelling (and often copied) story creates an ever-building sense of suspense and impending danger even though the film takes place, effectively, in a single room with a wheelchair-bound protagonist. The writers (Hayes and Woolrich) accomplish something truly remarkable -- keeping the audience interested and the story moving despite the fact that the location and protagonist can't.
The brilliant sound design and startlingly effective cinematography pull the audience into Jeffries' paranoid world, but it really falls to the performances of the affable Jimmy Stewart and the inexpressibly beautiful Grace Kelly to carry the film. Both succeed. As a pair, and against Raymond Burr's mostly silent menace, they give the audience characters that are at once flawed and vulnerable and also genuinely likeable and funny. This is a character-based thriller, and neither the characters nor the thrills disappoint. Hitchcock earns his sterling reputation with this one.
Oh, the irony. The Coens choose to begin their murderous and deceitful foray into the mafia genre with an impassioned and self-righteous sermon from a mob under-boss on the importance of ethics. Like all other Coen brothers' films, the tone is set right away.
Another thing that gets set from the very beginning of this story is the audience's need to pay attention. The film is fast-paced, quick-witted, and twisted to the point where, as one character puts it, "up is down; black is white," and nothing is what it seems. Following our main character, Tom (played to perfection by Gabriel Byrne), through his many (mainly self-inflicted) reversals of fortune and trying to figure his complex and seemingly contradictory motivations and loyalties can be dizzying. However, the quality of the writing, the performances, the photography, the sound design, and the general production values make the effort well worth it. Every character is quirky, flawed, and interesting enough to be the star, and every actor plays their character accordingly (with special notice of John Turturro, who is as deliciously slimy as Bernie as I have ever seen any actor be as anyone).
One of the most important trademarks of the (writer, director, producer) Coen brothers team has to be their use of subtle symbolism and subtext to add layers of meaning underneath their stories (usually involving a dream) -- making each film a kind of contemporary fable. This film, perhaps, accomplishes this more elegantly than any other (with the possible exception of another Coen brothers film, No Country for Old Men. I won't spoil it here; but if you watch this film, pay very close attention to each character's hat (or in at least one case, toupee). It's a small element with an enormous impact (perhaps this film is about ethics after all), and it helps elevate this film from just another mafia movie to just another Coen masterpiece.
With the increasing use of fictional elements in documentary films (especially in modern, performative works) and the increased use of documentary elements in fictional narratives (psuedo-documentary or mockumentary pieces), the lines dividing fiction, true stories, and films based on a true stories have become increasingly blurred. The blended genre, often called "docudrama," has offered audiences plenty of heavily-slanted and overly-manipulative garbage as well as a few well-crafted and poignant explorations of real human drama. Near the top of those very best examples of this relatively new genre, in company with brilliant films like The Battle of Algiers, Hotel Rwanda, The Bang Bang Club, and Black Hawk Down, shines Captain Phillips.
Even if you are familiar with the true events surrounding the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates (the first American cargo ship to by hijacked in 200 years -- for those of you who like trivia), Paul Greengrass' direction and Billy Ray's screenplay will keep you fastened to the screen. The performances are beyond flawlessly genuine and the impeccable structure and rhythm of the film simultaneously build the intensity and hold to an almost banal and ridiculous realism. These keep the film from turning into an action movie and give it the stronger suspense and emotion of a personal connection. In Ray's hands the characters (even the bad guys) are given respect and substance without changing their roles or excusing their actions. The writing, performances, and directing, in short, move both the story and the audience's compassion with consummate skill.
Captain Phillips does what a great docudrama should do: entertains, intrigues, and makes its point without giving in to the overt preaching or lack of moral themes many contemporary films favor.
This film is one of the all-time classics -- it won Academy Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Musical Score, and Best Original Song; it was nominated for Best Sound, Best Director, and Best Picture. This movie is about as well put together as a movie can get.
Legendary screenwriter, William Goldman, gifts the characters with sharp, witty, quotable dialogue which Paul Newman and Robert Redford deliver with deadpan perfection. What little time the supporting cast gets, they use well (with a particular emphasis on Strother Martin's unforgettably "colorful" performance as Percy Garris. Burt Bacharach's 60s-vibe score sounds a little odd for a western, but it offers a tone that period music just wouldn't deliver.
The real gem of this film, though, is Conrad Hall's photography. Intricately and beautifully crafted, the images are the main storytelling vocabulary. There is heart, metaphor, character, and action in every frame of this masterpiece. Film buffs and other careful viewers are treated to subtle nuances in lighting, angle, framing, and composition that enhance each line of dialogue, each action sequence, and the theme as a whole. Stunning.
Of course, as is the case in most American films from the late 1960s, the political commentary is heavy and certainly dark (compare this film to 1967s similarly-themed Bonnie and Clyde), but Hill's directing and Goldman's writing keep it from being ponderous or overwhelmingly obvious. The commentary reaches the audience naturally, and the conclusion loses none of its power or humanity pandering to the era.
Overall, if you're looking for a great ride and a nearly perfect example of filmmaking, this is your movie.
If ever there was a masterpiece of comedy film, this is it. It's hard to even know where to start writing about this ingenious collection of silliness, gender commentary, silliness, mob violence, silliness, witty dialogue, and silliness. Writer and director Billy Wilder manages to seamlessly entwine his clever social commentary into enormously frivolous situations without diminishing the impact nor "cheesing" the humor in the combination. Few directors are as skilled.
Filmed in black and white to avoid making the two leading men look more atrocious than they already do, the film initially feels like an older 1940s Film Noir or crime story. Once the comedy starts, however, the dippy lead characters juxtaposed against the film's many "straight men" are accentuated by contrast even further by that B&W tone and crime-story structure.
The film could not be better cast, and the performances are extraordinary. Tony Curtiss, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe E. Brown all avoid the cardinal mistake of comedic acting by playing their intensely ridiculous characters with sincerity and conviction. The honesty in the acting keeps the characters real and likable enough for the audience to care about them and laugh at them at the same time. The film is stolen, though, by Jack Lemmon, who, with his typical performance perfection, lifts this film from a really funny and well made comedy to a timeless classic. His deliveries are flawless and his mannerisms are so unexpected and entertaining that a simple look can produce a laugh. Brilliant.
Put all that together with witty, fast-paced dialogue and convincing, well-timed performances by George Raft and Pat O'Brien as the "straight men" gangster and cop duo (and a short, but exceptional, performance by Nehemiah Persoff as Little Bonaparte, the mafia don) and you end up with a solidly entertaining and immensely funny classic comedy. Everyone should see this film at least once just to learn how comedy is done.
So, to start off, I thought I'd go with a tough one. 2001: A Space Odyssey, positive or negative, is a film the earns a reaction. Most people have heard of it, many have seen it (though perhaps not all of it), thousands of other films, television shows, songs, paintings, etc. reference it; and yet, very few people understand it -- perhaps with good reason.
You've got to think during this one. About five years in the making, the film is by far one of the most carefully designed and intelligent pieces of media in our history. Under the tight control of auteur director, Stanley Kubrick, and with powerful scientific and theoretical insights from author, Arthur C. Clarke, the film explores a scope of millions of years including the origins of mankind, our future as a species, and the order behind the chaos of the universe. Each careful element carries part of the meaning, and nothing can be ignored -- from the tiniest sound effect to the largest and most complicated visual effect (even down to the reflections on a window or visor). The film's doggedly (and sometimes outright boringly) realistic portrayal of space travel lends weight to its themes, the stilted and flatly realistic performances turn the characters into types and symbols of banal human reality, and the stunning quality of the special effects (many designed by Kubrick himself and created without the aid of CGI) makes the entire film seem not just possible, but plausible.
Drawing heavily on the theories of Charles Darwin and the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche (with a healthy dose of theoretical mathematics and subtle religious symbolism mixed in) the film's suggestions about humanity's potential are staggeringly epic and stunningly original. Intelligent, thoughtful people should not miss this film. In fact, it isn't just a "must see," it's a "must see more than once and ponder." Or, like John Lennon, you could simply see it every week as a convenient way to enhance your illicit narcotics. Sigh.
I often get asked for movie recommendations, so I thought that I would make a place I could send people. Hopefully, I will eventually have several reviews here (along with content information) for some of my favorite films. Feel free to comment on any review and compare to your own favorites.
SAXTON'S FILM PICKS
People are always asking me what my favorite movies are, so I thought I'd make a list with reviews. I'll try to add a new pick every so often until my huge list of favorites is complete.
If you've seen one (or more) of the films, please add your own (appropriate) comments and reviews.