Summer Movie #31 – The Fast and the Furious (Rob Cohen, 2001): Although I watch the action movie and eat of the beef (Buffy reference) I’ve never seen any of these, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Also, I’ve been playing a game called Sleeping Dogs that has lots of driving elements and was partly inspired by the franchise, so there is that. This movie is fine for what it is, and what it is would be Point Break with cars in place of surf boards. The lack of Keanu gives this movie a real plus over Point Break, but the lack of Gary Busey is a problem and Vin Diesel is no Patrick Swayze.
Summer Live Movie #4 – The Guns of Navarone (J. Lee Thompson, 1961): What is there to say? One of the great classic war films. Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn starring in a major Hollywood movie that took time to ask questions about whether it is moral for good men to do bad things in a good cause.
Summer Movie #32 – Fury (Fritz Lang, 1936): Thanks to Jon Foster for this one – both letting me know about it and borrowing his dvd. This is a great film about mob violence and the destructive power of revenge. It stars a young Spencer Tracy who gives a typically great performance. It is a 1936 Hollywood film, and shows it (a deeply flawed – from a legal standpoint – trial dominates the second half; there is an important visual moment centering on a bedroom set for newlyweds which features two twin beds, etc…) but the quality shows through the studio trappings. I still need to watch the commentary track, though.
Summer Movie #33 – The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941): Again, what is there to say? One of the great film noir, Huston’s directorial debut, another iconic role for Bogart, and great supporting performances – especially from Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Put those two with Bogart and you just get classic films. Also notable is Elisha Cook as the young thug, Wilmer. I just finished reading the novel a couple days ago and this carries so much of the same feel – even with the restrictions of the Production Code (they really couldn’t make it so clear that Cairo was gay as in the novel and the scene from the book where Spade makes Brigid O’Shaughnessey strip naked in front of him just wasn’t going to happen).
Summer Movie #34 – The Big Lebowski (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1998):
The Dude abides.
Summer Movie #35 – The African Queen (John Huston, 1951): This is one of the great romance and adventure films of all time and, deservedly, gets a spot on many a “100 greatest” list. This film gave Bogart his only Oscar, which I find odd. He is good in this, but he had better roles, and better roles working with Huston such as the one I watched earlier this week – Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Still, that is the Academy in action.
Summer Movie #36 – Dance, Girl, Dance (Dorothy Arzner, 1940): This movie was mentioned in the documentary “Those Amazing Shadows” which I watched a week or so back. On the surface it looks like a fairly conventional film about a chorus girl finding her big break. There are, however, a few things that set it apart. First, it was directed by Dorothy Arzner, the only female director who worked in Hollywood during the height of the studio system. It also has a couple of fascinating women involved in the writing (Tess Slesinger co-wrote the screenplay which was based on a story by Vicki Baum – look them up, they are both intriguing). The story is notable for centering on strong (for 1940) female characters – and includes some criticism of the exploitation of women’s sexuality (again, this is a Hollywood film made in 1940). It also features good performances by Maureen O’Hara as the serious dancer and Lucille Ball as a sexy burlesque star (this is a point in her life when she was not far removed from a career as a model and when she was becoming the “Queen of the B’s” at RKO). This is not a great film, but it is a damned interesting one.
Summer Movie #37 – Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011): Thanks to Jon Foster for suggesting this one. This is a documentary about the 85-year-old chef and founder of a prestigious sushi restaurant. It is also about fathers and sons, about being an artisan (even if you are a tuna merchant), and even about environmentalism – like any great documentary, this takes a subject and then shows many different and often unexpected connections. The interviews are well-executed and interspersed with beautiful bits of cinematography. If you are a “foodie” you’ll love it. If you appreciate watching dedicated people at work, you’ll love it. If you like seeing film penetrate and illuminate human lives, you’ll love it. Check it out.
Summer Movie #38 – Blitz (Elliot Lester, 2011): This is a Jason Statham vehicle that features him as a “cop on the edge” (well within his range) and some decent performances by a familiar supporting cast, such as Paddy Considine, who has done several films (Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum); Aidan Gillen from Game of Thrones and The Wire; and David Morrissey from The Walking Dead. The movie itself is a bit of a mish-mash – a psychological drama, a standard serial-killer thriller, a cop “buddy film”, and a vigilante-themed action film – and none of the pieces were very interesting. It isn’t bad, just a bit unfocused and very ordinary save for a few decent performances. Oh, well, they can’t all be winners.
Summer Movie #39 – Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992): This was Woo’s last Hong Kong film before heading to Hollywood. It has all of the elements of his prior work – highly-stylized, very violent (if you’ve not seen any of these, think Michael Mann meets Sam Peckinpah), and starring Chow Yun-Fat. This film has cops rather than gangsters as the heroes, which was a departure for Woo. The story is a bit uneven, but the action sequences are just great. I’m pretty sure the big climactic battle, which takes place in a crowded hospital which explodes in the end, had to have inspired Nolan in The Dark Knight. This is just a fun action movie.
Summer Movie #40 – Les Miserables (Tom Hooper, 2012): This is a really good, but not perfect, movie. The pacing is off at times – especially early in the movie – and it sometimes feels like Hooper loses control of his own movie and it becomes a bit bombastic. Still, the cinematography is lush and beautiful, the music is extraordinary (for the most part), and the performances really make up for any weaknesses. When everything works the results are phenomenal. Hugh Jackman was great – as one would expect. Anne Hathaway’s performance, both acting and acting, of “I Dreamed A Dream” is just shattering. She isn’t on-screen for very long, but when she is, she just takes it over. Russell Crowe deserves more credit than he has gotten. His voice is just not of the caliber of some of the others, but his acting in this is some of the best he has done. His facial expression and body language while he sings one particular line tells you everything you need to know about Javert. With so many bravura performances by A-list stars, I think some of the lesser stars also didn’t get the attention they deserved, particularly Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, and Samantha Barks as Eponine. I have to end with a criticism, though. The ending is rather anticlimactic. Having built to this powerful moment of death and redemption, the film cuts to this final number that just felt false to me. Still, despite its flaws, this is a beautiful and stirring film.