The Squid and the Whale (2005)

The Squid and the Whale

The Squid and the Whale Review

The Squid and the Whale is a 2005 indie dramedy directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Jeff Daniels and Jesse Eisenberg. It is usually cited as one of the best films of its year and while I disagree, it is still quite a good drama film.

It follows a divorce of a 1980s family and how it impacts the children and how each kid picks a side. Now, the subject matter is very familiar and in spite of that, it is still very dramatic, very involving and at times even powerful all due to Baumbach’s directing skill, great acting as well as a fine script. I like how it explores all of the characters and how it ends with a really moving conclusion. And the metaphory at display here is a great touch. It is very smart and has a plot that is both relevant and dramatic. There is however one big problem here that hurts it a lot. The emphasis on sex is highly unnecessary with at times even a disgusting outcome. And that is all due to the director’s bad choices and he usually has those crazy sex or drug scenes in his movies which is why I am not a big fan of his, but more on that later.

The characters are the standouts. All four of the family members are absolutely magnificent and so well developed due to amazing character development that is essential for this kind of film. Bernard is the highlight in my opinion. His snobbish nature is so greatly depicted and he is therefore such a realistic and relevant character. Joan is also excellent with her divorce as well as cheating issues and Frank is stupendous for his young age. Walt is excellent as he is also realistic and the most emphasis is put on him with great, dramatic, meaningful results. All of the characters here are absolutely horrendous and highly unlikable and although that was a bit of a problem, it is necessary for its realism.

The acting is just superb with each and every performance being very good. Laura Linney is wonderful and Jeff Daniels is superb with his fair share of emotional moments. But it is Jesse Eisenberg who surprised me the most with his performance. He was natural, grounded and professional here and this is undoubtedly his finest performance. I was never a fan of his and until now I thought he was a mediocre actor, but he proved me otherwise here which is also a shame as he was never better afterwards.

The cinematography is well done and the movie is extremely well paced with its short running time being incredibly rewarding. The movie is also very smart and also highly emotional at times. And always so realistic and relevant. The dialogue is wonderful with the script being very sophisticated as well.

But it is the directing that is troublesome. It is very good at times, even magnificent, but I strongly dislike Noah Baumbach’s tendency to put sexual plotlines in it and some moments are gross here. That is the major problem the movie never overcame. But it is still the best film from the director I’ve seen so far and much better than the uneven efforts that are ‘Frances Ha’ and ‘While We’re Young‘. But it is still inferior to ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ that paved the way for it much earlier.

The Squid and the Whale is definitely the director’s best work with absolutely magnificent acting (Jesse Eisenberg has never been better), sophisticated script and very well developed and realistic characters. Those characters are still highly unlikable and the film at times goes into disgusting sexual territory, but it is still a dramatic film that is smart and relevant and explores its subject matter with great results.

My Rating – 4

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Shrek (2001)

Shrek

Shrek Review

Shrek is a 2001 DreamWorks animated fantasy comedy film with the voice cast consisting of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. It is one of the company’s most successful films and it earned the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. It is in my opinion, however, a rather overrated film that has its charms, but with the pop-culture references ruining it.

It is about an Ogre named Shrek who accompanied with a donkey must travel and rescue a princess in order to get his swamp back just for himself. Now, the story itself is a good one and it is a great twist in the end with a great message for children about beauty, being very progressive and different from other fairytale endings. And it makes fun of Disney fairytale films with great success, sometimes being very funny with a phenomenal commentary. But it is odd and frustrating for a film to make fun of something and end exactly the same way as the thing it made fun of. Yes, the ending is different in the appearance aspect of it, but it is still a happy ending and the entire storyline is predictable and revolves with a same formula taken from all those Disney films. The critics usually pinpoint that it is great how Shrek embraces and also ridicules those films, but to me it is frustrating as you can’t do both.

Now, for its references. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the film references, especially those aimed at Disney animated works. Those were all very well handled and appropriate story wise. On the other hand, I absolutely despised the pop-culture references of different modern songs. That was just awful on so many levels that it is needless to explain. But let me explain nevertheless. First of all, it is very annoying and such an approach is evidently aimed to please the adults and especially teens and geeks. That is a clever marketing ploy that I hate. Secondly, it naturally does not belong here. Those references to current pop songs do not  mash at all with the Middle Ages fairytale setting and thus you have a jumbled tone to it that ruined the whole experience for me. But it is this movie that in the progress ruined many other animated films to follow as they repeated the same formula and thus ruined their own films. It is influential in the worst ways possible and I am angry with this film for ruining American animation to some degree.

The characters are great and the character development overall is stupendous here. Shrek is a good protagonist with typical problems, but with atypical irritated behavior that pleased me personally. Donkey is also very good and the two share excellent chemistry and are a terrific duo without a doubt. And although he can be annoying at times and a typical African-American stereotype, he still isn’t a heartless creature and he is great in relationships with other characters. Princess Fiona is excellent. Her introduction and those whole first parts are so funny as her character is a perfect parody of Disney princesses. But she is great for the twist she has and the overall mix between a typical Disney princess and a warrior-like strong woman is rather amusing to be honest. But the other characters unfortunately are a failure and just the emphasis on just our three protagonists is unfortunate as you get all three of them properly developed, but all the others don’t get their development which is frustrating as it has an abundance of supporting characters. But all those fairytale creatures just have a cameo with Gingerbread Man being the most memorable and the funniest. As for Lord Farquaad, he is a cliched, weak villain with a familiar goal and is the worst character undoubtedly.

Now, the voice cast is great. But no matter how great it is, I still have troubles with it mainly because it is a celebrity voice cast and once again a terribly influential approach. It also has Mike Myers as a protagonist and although he did a great job of course and his accent is superb, I never bought his voice in this role as I failed to connect the voice to the character. Eddie Murphy is naturally great and so funny providing a lot of pathos here. And Cameron Diaz is also surprisingly good in her role. All of the actors did a fine job, but I just wish that not all of them were famous actors and that the movie did not influence future films in that regard as well.

The animation in Shrek is very good. Granted, the backgrounds, while intriguing, are somewhat dated and definitely tell the age of the film as do the human characters. But some like Fiona are very well depicted and the animal characters are the standouts with Shrek and Donkey being best designed. The character design overall is Dreamworksy and weird, the kind of animation they would continue later on, but it is still somewhat original and suits the movie well. I also liked the landscapes and the mood colors were great as well.

The imagery is great, the soundtrack is annoying, but the direction is mostly good as is the acting of course. The tone is well handled and is mostly comedic, but thankfully has its dramatic heft. And I liked its romance as well and the movie has a heart which is definitely a great, unexpected development. And it is authentic in its parody, but frustratingly referential and influential. It is also rather well edited, although too fast paced at times. It is predictable, but the dialogue is solid and it is engaging from start to finish.

When I compare it to other DreamWorks flicks, it is in the middle, neither too good, nor too bad. And for the franchise, it is the best along with the second one as the fourth is weaker and the third is incredibly mediocre and just horrendous. It is better than the ‘Madagascar‘  franchise, but of course way too inferior to the ‘How To Train You Dragon‘ series. And as for its Oscar, it is of course entirely undeserved and I don’t know what the Academy was thinking awarding Shrek over ‘Monsters, Inc’. That was just a bad choice in their first year of this award and probably one of the worst mistakes they made in this category since.

Shrek is a solid movie, definitely not bad, but also not too good either. It has excellent animation, the plot is engaging with a solid parody and it has its emotional moments, the voice cast is great and the humor is mostly good with the film references being terrific. But it has absolutely horrendous pop-culture references with the music that is too modern for this type of film and the voice cast has too many celebrities. That is not only this film’s problem, but I blame Shrek for unfortunately influencing many other future animated films in those two regards and thus in its wake ruining American animation to some degree. It is a solid and entertaining film, but the one that is frustratingly referential and influential.

My Rating – 3.5

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The Usual Suspects (1995)

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects Movie Review

The Usual Suspects is a 1995 famous crime thriller directed by Bryan Singer and starring Kevin Spacey. It is one of the most popular thriller films with one of the most memorable twist endings and villains in film history. And besides all those distinctions, it really is a great film.

It follows the interrogation of a cripple con man who is the only survivor of a ship massacre. And the less I say, the better as the movie should not be spoiled to anyone. It is such a riveting and above all intriguing and incredibly well crafted story that unfolds in the most atypical fashion possible. And that is its strongest achievement. It is one of those rare films that uses a different structure of a plot and a very different execution. It tells a story in a very different and unusual way. But unlike the films such as ‘Memento‘, it succeeds in that approach entirely and is used as a genuine plot device rather than a gimmick. The story here is incredibly well imagined and so memorable and smart.

Now, for its twist ending. It is for me the biggest weakness and the biggest strength the film has. First off, it entirely relies upon it. And secondly, I am one of the people who actually got it from early on. I genuinely predicted the outcome from the movie’s early stages and because that twist is the movie’s highlight and most important thing story wise, that is why it kind of disappointed me as I was not genuinely surprised. And that is the only flaw I have with this film along with its unimpressive and somewhat dragged first act.

But what a twist ending it is! Without spoiling anything, there is more to it as well and it should prove genuinely shocking and unexpected to most people. It also seems like a real plot progression or should I say conclusion unlike most twist endings that are just used for the shock value. The movie unfolds and ends in a most impressive and most satisfying way that I couldn’t imagine any other ending. The finale alone is so incredibly powerful and instantly recognizable.

Now, the characters. Dean Keaton has a great story act. Agent Kujan is a very grounded character and a great counteract to Kint. But apart from them, the other characters are not as memorable or as interesting which was a small problem to me. But The Usual Suspects still has one of the best and most awesome villains ever portrayed in a film. He is genuinely frightening, poses real threat and is phenomenally depicted. But it is the other characters’ stories about him and their reactions to his presence that lend to the movie’s dramatic and even horrific feel with some genuinely unnerving moments. The villain is definitely the biggest reason why this movie works so well.

The acting is absolutely superb. Kevin Spacey is of course just amazing and he has such a strong screen presence and gives such a powerful and impressive performance in a very difficult role. Chazz Palminteri is also terrific and Gabriel Byrne did a good job as well. None of the actors here disappoints. The direction from Bryan Singer is excellent and this is his first phenomenal movie and the one that showed off his talents the most. The cinematography is wonderful but it is the deft editing that is its strongest technicality. The score is also really good and tense at times as is the whole movie. The Usual Suspects is not only clever and incredibly sophisticated and well crafted on each and every level, but it is also so realistic and oh so intense and powerful. It is also immensely authentic and memorable, it’s filled with evident originality and excellent dialogue. It is also a perfect mix of thriller and crime with a distinct noir feel to it which is a nice touch.

The film received two Academy Awards, one for Original Screenplay and one for Best Actor for Spacey. Both are so deserved that I couldn’t see any other film taking those awards. But it’s a shame that it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture and that is just an endless testament to the Academy’s obvious clueless abilities in determining the best film of the year. It is not only one of the best films of the nineties but also one of the finest thrillers ever made.

With deft editing, incredibly sophisticated and engaging script, wonderful performances all around and filled with many intense and so memorable moments, The Usual Suspects truly is one of the best thrillers of all time and although I predicted the outcome from early on and that lessened the impact of the twist ending for me, it is still an incredible twist and the movie has one of the most powerful villains of all time. It is instantly recognizable with an authentic plot structure that is used as a genuine plot tool rather than a gimmick, but it is above all a riveting and sometimes even frightening thriller that deserves its iconic status without a doubt.

+ Deft editing and excellent direction and acting.
+ Sophisticated and riveting script.
+ One of the best villains of all time.
+ It has many intense and even scary moments.
+ One of the best endings of all time with a powerful twist.
 
– I predicted the twist and it relies too much on it.
– The beginning is less impressive.
For:
– Pure thriller fans.
– Kevin Spacey fans who gives one of his best performances.
– Crime fans.
Not for:
– Those who don’t follow the movies carefully as it demands your utmost dedication.

My Rating – 4.5

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Witness (1985)

Witness

Witness Review

Witness is a 1985 thriller drama film directed by Peter Weir and starring Harrison Ford. It was nominated for incredible eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and it deserved it as it is so surprisingly good.

It is about a detective who must protect a young Amish boy and his mother after the boy becomes a witness of a murder. This film is very odd. And in its concept and especially execution it feels as if you are watching two different movies. Witness’s genre mix of thriller and drama does not mash well, but is still so unique and different that I enjoyed it very much. The first and the last act are both in the thriller genre. But the whole long second act is pure drama. It is an interesting concept and it gives the movie some heart as well as a brain. Let me explain. By having that Amish drama, Witness suddenly has a romance to go with it as well. And although it is predictable and expected, it is still moving and well realized. But it succeeds even more on the intellectual level as it showcases a great understanding of both cultures and although it presents Amish as somewhat better people, it still strikes a balance in the comparison between the two in showcasing the different lifestyles and moral codes. It really is a fascinating subject matter, very authentic as well, but thankfully explored incredibly well.

But Witness succeeds as a thriller as well and that is all due to its beginning as the ending I did not appreciate as much. But it starts with a bang! The first fifteen minutes or so with the murder happening is so pulse-pounding and so thrilling that it is incredible to behold. It is also instantly recognizable and the most memorable and the finest part of the whole movie, the one that is executed with the most style and power. It is something that Hitchcock would have in his films – an unexpected situation filled with thrills and intense moments, but with powerful execution as well.

Now, the characters are also surprisingly well developed for a thriller film. John Book is a fine protagonist, still somewhat too heroic, but nevertheless well portrayed and likable, which is rare for Harrison Ford characters. Rachel Lapp is also a great character and the romance between the two is wonderful and she is realistically portrayed, albeit with her beauty too emphasized. Samuel is also quite good as a kid character and the other Amish people are well realized and the villains are quite solid.

The acting is really good. This is Harrison Ford’s finest performance without a doubt and the only time he played a real, likable character that you can root for. And although you could still see the acting at certain times, he still gave a mostly good performance that is easily his best as he was never a particularly good actor. Kelly McGillis is also stupendous and she gave such a great and nuanced performance.

The directing from Peter Weir is really good and the film is very well shot and wonderfully executed. The score is also solid with at times thrilling results. And for once I liked the slow-motion sequences as they are displayed at just the right moments to increase tension. The movie is very original in its genre mix and it is also very emotional and it does have a heart and it does have something to say thanks to a smart screenplay. The humor is rare, but once there, it is quite good. And the movie, although predictable and familiar in some plot points, is still riveting from start to finish and very realistic in approach. Apart from one prolonged sequence in the Amish part that was very unnecessary, the editing is regardless superb and it is deftly paced and never boring and thankfully never too frenetic.

I agree with its Oscars. It thoroughly deserved Best Editing and most importantly Best Original Screenplay as this is the rare thriller that is very original and authentic in its story, but also so clever. As for Best Actor nomination, I wouldn’t go so far, but it did deserve its technical nominations as well as Best Picture and Best Director nods. It really is a superb thriller and one of the best from the eighties without a doubt.

Witness‘s genre mix of thriller and drama is definitely original and even audacious even if at times it doesn’t quite work. But it is still such a well crafted story, for once meaningful and smart, having both romance and drama, but still having terrific thriller elements, especially in the pulse-pounding and so memorable beginning. It is a thrilling, but emotional film that also has something to say. It is incredibly well executed, well directed, well acted, but above all well paced and riveting from start to finish. It is one of the best 1980s thrillers without a doubt.

+ Phenomenal screenplay.

+ Great acting.

+ Excellent directing, editing and a technically deft film.

+ Smart themes.

+ Memorable thrills.

+ Authentic mix of genres.

– The mix doesn’t always work, seems like two different movies

– Editing is good apart from one overlong sequence.

– It is predictable and familiar at certain points.

For:

– Thriller as well as drama fans.

– Harrison Ford fans.

Not for:

– Usual thriller fans who expect an all-out thriller.

My Rating – 4.5

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For the Birds (2000)

For the BirdsFor the Birds

For the Birds is Pixar’s seventh short film and their third to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. And it deserved its award as it is so stupendous and unexpected in its execution.

The plot is so endearing, fun and hilarious in the end that I won’t spoil it as it is best to see it yourself. It is so well executed and memorable  in such a short running time (3 minutes) that it’s an incredible achievement. It doesn’t start that great and it entirely hinges upon its conclusion, but what an ending it is! This is one of the funniest shorts I have seen and I genuinely laughed out loud and that is really rare for me. But the concept is so good and the gag is spectacular and incredibly hilarious. It is also old-fashioned in a most unabashedly sweet and refreshing way which is a reason why it works so well.

The characters are excellent. All those birds are so well portrayed and animated and their sinister laughs are hilarious. And the big bird is the highlight, even funnier than the small ones and so fantastic in the end.

The animation is extraordinary. The birds are so phenomenal in their looks and color. Also the design here is top-notch and although the backgrounds are not as good, this is still a terrific animation filled with colorful and endearing charm to it.

For the Birds may depend entirely on its ending, but that ending is magnificent and filled with excellent execution, beautiful animation and most importantly, it has one of the funniest gags in all of short animation.

My Rating – 4.3

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Chicken Run (2000)

Chicken Run

Chicken Run Review

Chicken Run is a 2000 Aardman animated film produced by Dreamworks Animation. It is a stop-motion adventure comedy that is easily one of the best films from the company.

It is about a farm of chicken where one of them named Ginger tries to lead them to escape from certain death. It is a rather simplistic plot that is not as simple as in ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ but is still very straight-forward. And while that can be said to be a negative thing, it is still entertaining in droves and very charming, but above all the plot is not the focus here but rather the humor and the characters. But the plot itself is very well executed with a fine beginning and excellent ending that wrapped it up wonderfully. It also runs smoothly thanks to terrific editing and directing on display here. But it is always wonderfully entertaining, involving and oh so effervescent and humorous.

Speaking of that humor, it is probably the single aspect that drives Chicken Run the most. It is so simple, but oh so clever and with hilarious results. I like all the lines about chicken life, those were so extremely funny and just their British attitude and behavior along with ingenious slapstick makes it very funny. And the line ‘I saw my whole life flash in front of my eyes. It was so boring’ cracked me up as it is so clever and hilarious. And I like the attention to detail present here, most evident in the Rocky character. His freedom line is a fantastic reference and a brilliant nod to William Wallace, another character played by Mel Gibson in ‘Braveheart‘. But the detail is overwhelming and I love it. All the references to the brain capacity and boring life of chickens are so well done and incredibly smart and funny.

The characters are really well developed and all quite likable. Ginger is a good protagonist, a typical good-natured hero but it works well to distinguish her from the rest of the more idiotic bird characters. Rocky is great as the only American character and his storyline may seem familiar, but is done rather professionally and the romance between the two is cute. Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy are terrific as the villains. He is very charming as this nervous and somewhat stupid man that gets irritated by the chickens. And she may be over-the-top, but still done to great effect as she has great screen presence and she posed real threat to our protagonists. I wasn’t such a big fan of Nick and Fetcher as they were the typical other animals usually present in these films, but Babs is hilarious with her knitting and Fowler is a standout when humor is concerned. His anger towards Rocky and everything American is so hilarious and wonderfully amusing bringing a lot of pathos to the film.

All those characters are extremely well acted. Julia Sawalha is excellent in the lead role and Mel Gibson is good as well. But Miranda Richardson is excellent as the villain, Timothy Spall is also good, but the actors who did Babs and especially Fowler are the standouts in my book. All of the performances are superb bringing a lot of professionalism and British nature to this film.

The animation is exquisite, but I had some problems with it. One problem to be exact and that is that it is too dark which is due to not properly done cinematography. But it is regardless of that a really well animated film with especially great character design that is perfectly suitable for these animals as it is simplistic and goofy. The clothes are well done, the backgrounds as well and the nature in the third act is also wonderful to look at. It is a very well animated work for which Aardman is famous for.

The directing from Peter Lord and Nick Park is splendid as is the pacing with never a dull or rushed scene, it all flows magnificently. The imagery is also great and the attention to detail exhibited both in humor and in animation is evident. The humor is great and the highlight, but Chicken Run also has a heart and a brain as it is so sophisticated in my opinion. Its ingenuity is present throughout the whole running time. The chicken’s realization of Rocky’s ‘flying abilities’ for instance is a testament to a sophisticated screenplay in which the scene and plot is shown rather than told. The acting is superb and the tone is well handled. I really liked the score here as well as it has some memorable pieces. The sound effects are also excellent. The dialogue is absolutely magnificent with a lot of hilarious and smart lines. It is predictable, but it is nonetheless enthralling from start to finish but always charming and filled with a lot of fun and detail.

When comparing it to other Aardman films, it is in my opinion their best after their amazing 2015 outing. And as for Dreamworks, it is naturally on the top of the list and the very best of their early movies along with ‘The Prince of Egypt‘. People usually don’t talk about this film which is strange as it is one of the best of the company and one of the best stop-motion films of all time, there is no doubt about it. And I am certain that if the category of Best Animated Feature Film had existed in the year of 2000, Chicken Run would have got it without any real competition because the year is so weak when animated films are concerned. It really is a blast to watch.

Now, for its flaws. The script is too simplistic as usually Aardman films are, but it’s saved for its sophistication in execution. The humor is not present in the second half as much as in its first which is a shame. And some character and plot points are very predictable and familiar. But those are minor flaws in an otherwise excellent film.

Chicken Run has deft animation with a lot of detail, excellent characters with some being hilarious and the humor is top-notch, so clever and funny. The voice acting is also terrific and the movie is always charming and involving. It has some familiar parts and is too simplistic, but it is also very sophisticated in its execution with just phenomenal humor and great attention to detail. It is one of the very best Aardman films for sure.

My Rating – 4.5

 

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Nashville (1975)

Nashville

Nashville Review

Nashville is a 1975 musical film directed by Robert Altman and starring Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin and Ned Beatty. It was nominated for Best Picture including four other nominations and is regarded as a masterpiece where in my opinion it is a mediocre movie.

Nashville follows a bunch of people involved in country music in Nashville, Tennessee. By just reading that synopsis you can see its problems. It is a basic 70s and Oscar movie that follows a bunch of different people but doesn’t let you know any of them and throw in the overreliance on music instead of any story whatsoever and you get a concert documentary and not a live-action film. It is also very boring and so overblown, lasting for two and a half hours. There are some moments here that are great, mostly some comedic moments that are very endearing and funny thanks to fine humor displayed here. But it is just tedious and never properly developed with no story whatsoever. The movies from that era tended to be like that – a bunch of people, one event and a weak plot. ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind‘ is similar, but it is a much better movie than Nasvhille and it has at least a central character developed whereas in this movie not one character gets a proper treatment.

The characters are awful. Some female characters in particular are very funny and charming, but others are mostly bland and never explored whatsoever. The character development in this movie is downright terrible. As for its acting, it is solid with some rather good performances, but because the characters are so thin, those actors couldn’t save them.

Now, for the music. Because it’s a musical and because it just relies entirely on it, it is important and they succeeded with a couple of really good songs with I’m Easy being solid and 200 Years being a standout and very catchy with fine lyrics. But the rest are just too repetitive, forgettable and similar to each other to be enjoyed more.

As for the politics, it is badly incorporated. It should be about both entertainment and politics, but that is never clear. It is too rarely explored and almost never present which is weird because the critics praise it. I must be missing something because I couldn’t see anything in this movie besides the music and boring characters.

As for its technical achievements, it has good directing from Altman because he got from the actors what he got and the movie looks good with fine cinematography and solid editing. But it is boring and badly paced. The acting is good and the humor is the standout, but the script is mediocre and almost non-existent and the music tends to take most of the running time.

As for its awards, it got best song for I’m Easy which is somewhat deserved as it is one of two songs I enjoyed here. Best Director nomination was not deserved and its nomination for Best Picture is ridiculous. But the nominees Ronee Blakley and Lily Tomlin both deserved it as both gave the best performances.  Overall, I do not get its overwhelming critical success and recognition because it is such a boring, non-story and even dated movie that is one of the most overrated films from an overrated year. Yes, 1975 is in my opinion an awful year that is just one of the worst in film history and I don’t get the constant admiration it receives.

Nashville has a boring and even non-existent story, just awful character development and it is over-reliant on music which is solid, but I am not a country music fan and the only two songs I enjoyed here are I’m Easy and 200 Years, the rest are repetitive and forgettable. It is well acted, somewhat funny and solidly made, but it is overblown, has no purpose, story or characters and is at many times tedious. It is an overrated movie from an overrated year that is one of the worst years ever in film history.

My Rating – 2.5

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Ship of Fools (1965)

Ship of Fools Movie Review

Ship of Fools Movie Review

Ship of Fools is a 1965 drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and it stars Vivien Leigh, Simone Signoret and Oskar Werner. It was nominated for Best Picture, but is not as well regarded nowadays for good enough reasons.

It is about a group of diverse people aboard a ship from Mexico to Germany in 1933. It is a typical setting and a movie could have been terrific, but turned out to be more of a good concept than a fine execution. That is mainly because the movie is way too preachy and even more indelicate. It is as subtle as an earthquake which is most evident in its depiction of anti-Semites and even more so of dog lovers who are portrayed as the absolute worst people which was surprising and done all too over-the-top.  But even though it can be boring and is definitely overlong, it is saved by its excellent dialogue from time to time and it even has some tremendous sequences that are the highlights, warm and so powerful and just emotional and moving. Those are the scenes with Leigh’s character and especially Werner’s wonderful and so poignant character and his beautiful companion.

The characters are mostly quite good as is the acting which is the highlight of the whole Ship of Fools experience. Mary is a great and very grounded character, so wonderfully portrayed by always great Vivien Leigh. The dwarf character is excellent for not being portrayed in a bad manner but is still annoying in the end with great opening, but awful ending lines that just made the movie feel pointless. And all the other characters fail in comparison to her and the two aforementioned characters who are absolutely marvelous. Yes, Dr. Schumann and La Condesa are so wonderful and such a romantic and genuinely lovable couple with a poignancy and chemistry rarely seen in movies. He is such a tragic figure and so sympathetic whereas she is just a wonderful and humorous person. Oskar Werner gave such an outstanding performance here worthy of any nominations and Simone Signoret is also so incredibly good with some downright terrific character acting moments displayed.

The movie is very well shot and filmed as well with the acting transcending its cliches and flaws in a great way. But the directing from Kramer is just awful and he is the one responsible for such heavy dialogue and immensely unsubtle approach. A different director would have done a much better job with this already fine concept. And this bad execution still leaves ‘Grand Hotel‘ as the finest movie of this ‘large group in one facility’ type film. The movie is emotional and is very romantic at times, but is too melodramatic, sometimes in a very unnecessarily preachy and cliched manner. It is predictable and also very badly edited thanks to its overlong nature. And it is too serious and although the humor present is quite good, it is still very rarely displayed.

As for its Oscars, it thoroughly did not deserve its wins for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction as both are not that good whatsoever. The nominations for Best Screenplay, Best Picture and Best Costume Design are all undeserved, but the acting nominees Simone Signoret, Oskar Werner and Michael Dunn all deserved their nominations as all were superb in their respectable roles.

Ship of Fools is a good concept executed poorly. It has absolutely amazing acting with the performances from Oskar Werner, Vivian Leigh and Simone Signoret among others being just terrific and the highlights of the film. It also has its moments, mostly some emotional as well as sweetly romantic, but it is awfully directed by Stanley Kramer, badly edited and prolong and just too preachy, melodramatic and downright unsubtle.

My Review – 3.5

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Picnic (1955)

Picnic

Picnic Review

Picnic is a 1955 romantic comedy drama film directed by Joshua Logan and starring William Holden, Kim Novak and Rosalind Russell. It was nominated for Best Picture and nowadays isn’t regarded as a classic when it should be because it is a superb movie.

It is about one day in a small Kansas town during the Labor Day holiday and how that day impacts the people in different ways. It is filled with excellent themes from sexual tensions, frustrations to love and unhappiness. It is also about social norms and it makes fun of them by having sexually frustrated characters not being able to show that, but having to hide it or use metaphors which is a perfect social commentary of the life in the 1950s. But it is above all a deeply emotional, to this day relevant look at love, relationships and the relations between the two sexes.

The characters are what makes this movie great. They are all incredibly well developed and they are all really likable people who you root for instantly. Hal is possibly a protagonist here, but I wouldn’t say this movie has a central character for most of them are paid much attention to. Regardless, he is a terrific character, incredibly well acted and portrayed, realistic and with relevant issues. Madge is absolutely superb and her sadness and frustration because of the constant praise about her looks that she receives is very well explored. She is still a female character from the fifties, but is nevertheless a strong female character that is possibly the most important character here. Both characters have that trouble with their good looks but whereas she gets praise, he doesn’t and that is a great commentary on the relations between men and women and how people regard the two sexes. But most importantly, the two probably get the finest sequence in the film which is a dance at the picnic which is both deep and incredibly romantic and just beautiful to behold.

Flo is great as her mother and her worrying nature and constant care for her daughter is really wonderful and quite sad, most evidently in that awesome ending. Millie is a typical butch female character from the time, but the relationship between her and Madge is excellently portrayed, giving us a lot of warm moments. Howard as the nervous old man is so well realized and a very realistic character, but it is Rosemary who is the highlight in the whole movie in my opinion. Her behavior and her lines lend to much of the humor in the first half, but add to lot of the drama and devastation and emotion in the second half. Her need for a husband, for a companion and her need for a better future and to escape the suburban and spinster life is so heartbreaking and poignant but oh so relevant. And their relationship is so good with the last act being incredible with a hilarious but very satisfying ending and more importantly that superb dialogue between the two where we see just how desperate and lonely old single people can get. Their troubles are explored the best which is why this subplot is easily the best and most sophisticated in here.

Picnic has great acting. There is no question about it. Each and every actor did a great job. William Holden is superb as Hal and a great choice to play him. He exhibits the necessary good nature, inherent sexiness and troubled look in his eyes that he fit the part wonderfully and played it in a great way. Kim Novak is not that good, but even she is quite good here, especially in the romantic sequences and although somewhat overacted, she still gave a solid performance and was likable in the role despite the fact that I am not a big fan of hers. Being the same as her character, it is Rosalind Russell who gave the standout performance, so powerful and a performance that is one of the best of that year. She did such a terrific and natural job in her incredibly difficult role which is so admirable and her performance lifted the whole movie.

Technically, Picnic is so-so. Some aspects are great, others not so much. First, the cinematography. It is rather good and especially the ending is so well shot and just beautiful to watch. The score is also solid and the dialogue is remarkable and really sophisticated. The themes are also excellent and properly explored and the movie has both realism and emotion displayed. And the ending, although predictable, is nonetheless more than that as you don’t know if it’s good when you think about it more and if you believe it is, it is emotionally rewarding because you rooted so much for these people to be happy. Now, for the weak parts. The directing from Joshua Logan is quite weak and the better director would have made this a much better film. But the editing is simply put bad. It is sometimes very prolonged and the picnic sequence in general is incredibly dragged and just was a big problem the movie never quite overcame. I know they wanted to recreate this atmosphere, but it still feels way too long and unnecessary. And the movie’s structure is problematic, but also rewarding. Let me explain. Just like ‘American Graffiti’ later on, the movie uses the structure of a large group of people during the short period of time and making you know them and know their troubles. And while that is problematic and you have the not so subtle jump from one character to another and many prolonged scenes, it is still infinitely better used than in that movie I mentioned because unlike there, here it doesn’t have too many unnecessary scenes (just that picnic one) and it actually makes use of its characters and properly explores all of them. It also not only gives you a great ending, but also a lot more awesome and highly memorable and emotional scenes.

As for the Academy Awards, it won Art Direction which was an okay choice, but a travesty nonetheless as ‘The Night of the Hunter‘ came out that year as well and it is a visual and artistic masterpiece. It also won Editing which is once again a weird choice. It didn’t deserve the nomination for Director, but it did deserve Best Picture and Best Score nominations. O’Connell was nominated for his role as Howard and he deserved it, but it is such a shame and travesty that Russell wasn’t even nominated when she should have won! That is just the worst snub from the Academy that year. Picnic evidently got a very weird and bad treatment from them, receiving some undeserved awards, while being snubbed for others.

Picnic is a very underrated film. It has terrific acting, especially from Rosalind Russell who is just tremendous here, it has incredibly well developed and likable characters with well realized and relevant troubles they face. It also has an incredibly rewarding ending and although it is badly edited and sometimes too prolonged, it is mostly a very engaging, smart and above all a poignant and very powerful film filled with some excellent dialogue and also humor. Picnic, a movie that may seem dated on the surface, but is actually a timeless tale about sexual frustrations and deeply rooted discontent.

My Rating – 4.5

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Geri’s Game

Geri's Game Geri’s Game is Pixar’s sixth short film and their second to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. And it deserved it as it’s one of their finest with its clever and sophisticated nature.

It is about an old man who plays chess with himself and as the movie progresses, we suddenly see two versions of him playing, but in the end as the camera backs, we see that he plays with himself and that there is no one there beside him. That is an excellent approach as it lets you perfectly inside the character’s mind. And this movie has one of the best story arcs and characterizations in a Pixar short, that’s for sure. He is such a beloved old man and his looks, behavior and moves are all so realistic. But it is his smiles and childlike nature that are the most endearing.

The plot perfectly plays. It starts somewhat fast, but the middle is awesome and the shift into two persons is done deftly as is the movie’s conclusion which is just amazing. It is a perfectly wrapped up little film. And the score is really good, albeit the choice to cut from it at some points, leaving just silence, was awkward.

The animation is terrific without a doubt. The character design is the highlight with Geri’s look being both grounded and very well realized. But the backgrounds are also good as are the little details such as chess figures and hands. It is evident that a decade passed from their earlier films as the animation is so much better here as it advanced remarkably in that one decade.

Geri’s Game is sweet, endearing and incredibly smart and sophisticated. It also has wonderful animation, excellent characterization and a great conclusion making it, along with ‘Red’s Dream‘, one of Pixar’s very best shorts.

My Rating – 4.6

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