Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween ★★★★

     Halloween is one of the most intriguing holidays in the history of the world. It embodies many things, including fear and celebration. It also takes place during the most beautiful time of the year; when the earth expresses so many delicate colors and when there is a slight sense of nostalgia in the air. John Carpenter's "Halloween" is a 1978 horror film that takes the essence of this holiday and bottles it up for the viewer to open time and time again.

    This film begins in fictional Haddonfield, Illinois, in 1963. The camera directs us through the subjective viewpoint of a little boy on Halloween night. This innocent young boy is Michael Myers, who we soon find out is not as innocent as we think. After committing a sinister act in which he murders his sister, young Michael wonders out into the front yard only to be discovered by his parents with a bloody butcher's knife and a look of complete bewilderment. We then fast forward fifteen years to Halloween 1978. Myers has escaped imprisonment from a mental institution and has stolen an official's station wagon for transportation. He travels back to the only place he has ever known, Haddonfield, where he proceeds to stalk some local teenage girls.

    The acting in "Halloween" exceeds what you would generally expect from a horror film. The man behind the mask of Myers, a character that is also famously known as "The Shape," is Nick Castle. Although Myers has no dialogue, Castle had to delicately control this monster through his motions and movements. He had to make sure he didn't seem too mechanical while not moving too swift or human-like. Donald Pleasence steps into the role of Dr. Sam Loomis; Loomis is the health official in charge of keeping Myers out of the public eye--and once Myers escapes from confinement--he frantically tries to track him down.

    Pleasence takes this role in stride and genuinely comes off as a scared and nervous individual. He knows the evil which could potentially wreck havoc on the small little town of Haddonfield, and he explains so to the local Sheriff in one particularly brilliant scene that Michael is "no man," but "pure evil." Laurie Strode is the innocent babysitter who becomes the focal point of Myers' murderous intentions. After he first gets a glimpse of her, "The Shape" continues to stalk Laurie and her friends into the evening. Laurie Strode is played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her first professional acting role. (This, of course, famously launched her acting career.) Curtis is true to this role as the innocent bookworm who cares more about her studies than mingling with boys or substance abuse.

    With this film, John Carpenter has molded a timeless classic in the horror genre. Many films since have duplicated numerous aspects from this picture and have tried to mimic them with unsuccessful results. Carpenter is brilliantly patient with his camera movements and occasionally surprises the audience with a startling movement or musical score. Coincidentally, Carpenter also wrote the music for this film, which fuels the paranoia and fear that surrounds the audience. Debra Hill also deserves a substantial amount of credit for her role in the production of the film and the writing of the screenplay. The cast and crew for this film were extremely young at the time, and it definitely shapes this picture to a certain extent. It gives off a sense of their youth--and in the case of Curtis--innocence. My only issue with this film would be the timing of filming. It was filmed in the spring, and it truly disappoints me that they did not film in autumn. I understand the excitement and politics behind an October release; however, the beauty that could have been will always linger with me.

    "Halloween" is a gripping film that will leave your pulses throbbing for the entire ninety minutes. It continues to be celebrated and rightfully so. Carpenter claims that to film a drama or comedy is a very tense process and serious in mood. On the other hand, filming a horror movie lightens up the mood; it allows the actors and director to be more comfortable and laid back. I would assume that "fear" is the emotion that allows all of this to happen. "Halloween" exhibits all of these aspects and will rest in the memories of us all as the ultimate horror gem.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Fugitive Kind ★★★★

    Valentine "Snakeskin" Xavier drifts into town with nothing but a forgettable past and his lifelong companion--his guitar. Xavier is the main character in the 1959 film entitled "The Fugitive Kind." This picture is based on the play, written by Tennessee Williams, known as Orpheus Descending. Sidney Lumet directs this black and white drama, which features dark undertones and brilliant character studies. 

    "The Fugitive Kind" begins in New Orleans where we first get a glimpse of Valentine Xavier; he is pleading his case in front of a judge. Once the judge begrudgingly gives him leave, he gets his guitar out of "hock" and makes his way out of town to turn over a new leaf. After his car breaks down, he finds himself in the town of Two Rivers County, Mississippi. It is a small, dark and dreary river town where all the inhabitants know each other, and they surely don't take kindly to strangers. He finds work at the local mercantile store and begins a relationship with the owner's wife---all while trying to fend off the past.

    The performances in "The Fugitive Kind" are nothing short of sensational; Marlon Brando is brilliant as Valentine Xavier. (One of his lesser known roles.) Brando performs this role with natural ease, especially considering the complexity of his character. He is a thirty-year-old, intelligent, and quiet individual, who displays provoking thoughts and sensibility. Xavier is wise and does not fall victim to temptation. There are many incredible scenes where Brando depicts those particular traits of his character with supreme professionalism.

    Brando is arguably the greatest actor of his time, and here is one of the roles that he may not have been highly praised for; however, he unquestionably shows a variety of range in his approach to this performance. 

     In order for a film like this to work, then you have to cast an actress with enough range and power to equal that of Brando; Anna Magnani does just that. Magnani is impeccable in her role as Lady Torrance, the wife of Jabe Torrance, who owns and operates the local mercantile store. When we first meet Lady, she is a sad and broken woman who claims that "death can't come soon enough." She has lived a rough and painful life with many heartbreaking memories. From the moment she meets Xavier, however, she knows that he can pick up the pieces and make her feel alive once more.

     Brando and Magnani have incredible chemistry together on the screen. Every scene between these two characters is genuine and beautiful. Joanne Woodward rounds out the cast as Carol Cutrere--the black sheep of a wealthy local family who pays her to stay out of town. Of course, she doesn't, as she loves attention and must be "seen, heard, and felt." Naturally, she falls for Xavier, for she remembers him from a New Year's Eve party in New Orleans. Woodard is terrific in this role, and she also displays wonderful chemistry with Brando. 

     Lumet is methodical with his directional approach to this film. Every scene takes its time and doesn't rush to prove its point. Lumet works well with his actors here and makes sure to get the best performances from them. This is the first major film of many that Lumet will direct and ultimately prove his place as one of the best of his time. The environment of this film is incredibly dark and dim; credit must be given to the cinematographer and other production crew who successfully contain this film to its dark interiors.

    Additionally, the musical scores are placed brilliantly and never drown out any conversation. They are very subtle and even downright eerie, especially in an early scene in which Brando converses with the local Sheriff's wife, who gives him a dry place to rest on the night he comes into town.

     "The Fugitive Kind" is a dark and delicate film that should be watched on a quiet and lonely night. It will lend its emotions to the viewer and will grip you with its beautiful dialogue and acting. True character studies are a miraculous thing to observe. It is truly a shame that they do not exist in film any longer. We have become spoiled with computer graphics and special effects, and we have lost the sensuality that was once captured in film. This is a picture that will stand the test of time simply because it is far ahead of its time. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Field of Dreams ★★★★

    "I'm thirty-six years old, I love my family, I love baseball, and I'm about to become a farmer, but until I heard the voice, I'd never done a crazy thing in my whole life." These are the iconic words of Ray Kinsella--the central character in the 1989 film entitled "Field of Dreams." This picture is based on the book, Shoeless Joe, written by W.P. Kinsella, and it is directed by Phil Alden Robinson.

    "Field of Dreams" introduces us to Ray, and his family, through a nostalgic montage of vintage home movies and pictures. Accompanying this scene is the voice-over work of  Kevin Costner, who stars as the main character. He has a wife, a lovely daughter, and works as a corn farmer in the beautiful state of Iowa. His life is routine mostly, and he never involves himself with spontaneity. This all changes, however, when a voice from above whispers these words to him: "If you build it, he will come." This event turns Ray's life upside down, and it will send him on a magnificent and spiritual journey to fill the void in his life--a void that he never had the strength to confront otherwise.

    This film exhibits a star-studded cast with spectacular performances all around. Kevin Costner shines as Ray Kinsella and proves to us why he is one of the greatest actors of his time. He plays this role with a sense of quiet passion and urgency, even though his character has no idea what's in store for him. Costner is a naturally gifted actor that displays wonderful continuity in his mannerisms and facial acting. This is a character that he was born to portray, and one that we are meant to remember.

    To aide Ray in his quest is his loving and supporting wife, Annie, played by Amy Madigan. Madigan is very good in what appears to be a smaller and somewhat bogged down role. She is undoubtedly confined to being the supporter of Ray; even in her most explosive scene, she again takes a back seat to the plot. Yet, Madigan breathes life into this loving family and brings beauty to a cast that is dominated by male actors. Rounding out the cast are veteran actors Burt LancasterJames Earl Jones, and Ray Liotta. Liotta stars as "Shoeless" Joe Jackson who, even with limited dialogue, becomes an integral part of this magnificent story. Jones plays the reclusive and brilliant writer named Terrance Mann. Mann works directly with Ray and, even with his short time on-screen, we see him transform from a cold and distant individual to a character with a loving heart. (Jones has a prominent speech in the last half-hour that will simply blow you away.)

    Lancaster steps into the role of an ex-baseball player named Archibald "Moonlight" Graham. Although a secondary character, Lancaster brings true emotion to this film. He is a man of integrity, who has seen his dreams brush past him, "like a stranger in the crowd." Graham will attempt to recapture his long and forgotten dream through Ray and this magical field. Lancaster ultimately reminds us all that you don't have to be the star to steal the show.

    This movie revels in its brilliant performances, which spawn from a very well-casted group of actors. Although they should get most of the credit, the director and crew executed their jobs in honorable fashion. Phil Robinson, who doesn't have the greatest resume for a director, should get recognition for his role here. The direction was excellent, and the film had numerous strikingly gorgeous shots. In my opinion, the camera must help tell the story that the actors are depicting. (The camera in this particular instance followed their lead and ran with it.) Robinson executed long shots and close-ups when needed and didn't over-extend himself, which can be very important.

    There is one particular scene, involving Doc Graham, that shows you how something very small, and seemingly insignificant, can enrich a film. Chirping birds and a subtle breeze make it into this wonderful scene, which not only stimulates the senses, but it gives you a feeling that you are actually there. Robinson also deserves credit with regard to the screenplay. He, and the author of the book in which this movie is based, W.P. Kinsella, completed a wonderful script, which consists of smooth and warming dialogue.

    "Field of Dreams" is a remarkable story, and it is even more breathtaking when etched into the medium of film. It did receive high recognition among many film critics, and the film was nominated for Best Picture. If you judge this book solely by its cover, then you will probably just dismiss this movie for another baseball-themed film. Although baseball links these characters together, this film adds up to much more. It is a film that comments on guilt, happiness, and not being afraid of reaching out and grabbing onto your dreams.

    The last half-hour of this film is emotionally charged, and it excels in bringing out the emotions of the viewer. Purposely, I did not divulge too much into the plot, so that if you have never seen this movie you might give it a try. For those of you that have seen this film, I hope you would agree that those particular moments that touched your heart are still with you and that you haven't forgotten the magic.

    "I best be getting on home, before Alicia begins to think I have a girlfriend."


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Badlands ★★★★

Image result for Badlands film title shot

    Her name is Holly--a fifteen-year-old, Texas-born, innocent young girl. His name is Kit--a mid-twenties, James Dean imitation, hellbent type. These are the central characters that Terrence Malick chooses to build his world around in "Badlands" his 1973 debut film. This picture is a fictional tale, which is loosely based on the events of the Charles Starkweather/ Caril Fugate  murder spree. There are many similar details to the real life events; however, you will have to connect the dots for yourself.

    We are introduced to these characters through a nostalgic setting in the Midwestern town of Fort Dupree, South Dakota. The opening scene sets the blueprint for the entire picture with its beautiful voice-over work (spoken by Sissy Spacek) and its haunting musical scores.

    Holly's ingenuous life revolves around school, music lessons, and baton twirling--until one fateful day--when she meets Kit Carruthers played by Martin Sheen. Kit is a local garbage man who, after leaving his work route a little early, stumbles upon the young Holly while she plays in her front yard.

    They begin an effortless (and rather instinctive) relationship that is brilliantly displayed on-screen with images of Holly running to Kit's car or waiting for him at the setting of a high school football practice; it is a relationship rooted in loneliness and detachment. Kit loves Holly for her innocence and guiltlessness, and perhaps she reminds him of a simpler time in his life.

    The acting in this film is quite exquisite. Sheen and Spacek, in their most prominent roles to date, display a wonderful chemistry with each other and with the surrounding environment these characters inhabit. They bring these unique characters to life in a way that most actors could never dream of doing: By dissolving their own personalities into these lost individuals, these actors make the character their own. It is truly a shame that neither got the recognition they deserved. Sheen is exceptionally radiant in many particular scenes and moments. (This includes a reserved discussion with Holly's father and a scene of quiet anger after one of the murders.) Spacek's voice-overs fuel this film and beautifully accentuate Malick's poetic words and imagery.

    Of course, we must also give credit where credit is due. Terrence Malick is the artist here, and Sheen and Spacek are nothing more than colors on his palette. In his cinematic debut, Malick takes everything we have seen in the medium of film up to this point and adds his own special ingredient: Nostalgia. Personally, it is my conviction that this is one of the most underrated emotions in the art of film. Whether it is a certain shot or a string of shots, this emotion is present in all of Malick's pictures. His direction and cinematography are simply impeccable.

    Considering the fact that Malick is a known perfectionist, and that he takes his time to properly edit his work, we should not be surprised by the remarkable outcome. The sequence of shots in the chapter entitled "Grand Love," a progression in which Holly and Kit begin to develop their feelings for one another, are some of the most beautiful shots I have ever witnessed. In addition, the scenes of Holly and Kit in the wilderness prove to me that Malick is at his best in nature. Malick also has a small acting role in this film, which you may not even notice unless you have seen a picture of the reclusive filmmaker.

    This is a picture that will change your perspective on film and direction. The director is the nucleus when it comes to making a brilliant film. If the direction is terrific, then ninety-nine percent of the time, the picture will speak of this notion. Film consists of more than just a plot, a setting, and a set number of characters. I am a true believer that the five senses must also be intrigued.

    Obviously, you will not be able to touch, smell, or taste a film; however, in a figurative sense, you must be transported out of the norm--thrown into a world of pleasure, excitement, and wonder. Emotions must be toyed with. This film is nothing short of a joy to watch and an even greater delight to critique. Every four-star film will leave you with these feelings and Malick's "Badlands" exceeds in all facets.

    "Takes all kinds."