Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Toy Story: My Review

Posted: July 5, 2011 in AFI 100, Movies

  Toy Story (1995)

Dir. John Lasseter

Starring Tim Allen, Tom Hanks & Don Rickles

Ranked #99 on AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time

 

There are so few production companies and studios that have the track record that the studio that made my film for today.  From the minds of some of the most talented animators in the world and the house of the mouse, I get to watch Pixar’s first and one if their best, Toy Story.

Andy and his mom and sister are getting ready to move.  That’s the boring part of the movie.  The best part is the secret world that inhabits Andy’s room.  It’s a world where all your toys are alive.  Woody is the favorite toy, a pull string cowboy doll that leads the other toys that consist of a dinosaur, army men, Boo Peep, a pig and a slinky dog.  They are all nervous not because of the impending move but because it’s Andy’s birthday and the toys are worried they’ll be replaced.  Woody and the gang’s worst fears come true when Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger toy is brought into the fold.  Soon, Buzz and Woody come to blows and Buzz becomes trapped in the room of Sid, the local kid that loves blowing up toys.  It’s up to Woody to save the day, rescue Buzz and wrangle all the other toys for the move.

Pixar must have some kind of magic water that they distribute to their workers or they just know what works and go with it.  I mean lets face it, it’s hard to make a movie that appeals to both adults as well as children and Pixar has that formula.  We see it in almost all of their films, including their first, Toy Story.

What works with Toy Story far outnumbers what doesn’t.  It’s an adventure story that kids only dream of going on and one that adults only remember as fond memories.  Toy Story brings back that time when I sometimes wondered if my toys were alive when I was at school or sleeping.  It has a story of jealousy and friendship, of finding the best in people and sometimes just letting go of your worries.

The voice work is spot on with Tim Allen as Buzz and Tom Hanks as Woody.  Of course the supporting cast of Jim Varney, Don Rickles, Annie Potts and John Ratzenberger of Cliff Claven fame who appears in all of their films help just round out the other toys voices.

I will say that after seeing Toy Story 3 and comparing it to Toy Story, it is amazing how far Pixar has gone with improving their animation.  Toy Story was revolutionary for it’s time.  It was the first full feature computer animated movie.  It created a need for family fun that was sorely lacking and created numerous knockoffs and impersonators.

While this is not my favorite Pixar movie, some of the musical numbers make me lose interest pretty fast; this is one of my top 3 of all time.  It’s amazing how far they have come in making movies and telling complete stories.  I always look forward to their next films every time they come out, with the exception of Cars.

4.5/5

James

  A Night at the Opera (1935)

Dir. Sam Wood

Starring Kitty Carlisle, Alan Jones, Groucho Marx, Chico Marx & Harpo Marx

Ranked #85 on AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time

 

 

A great number of vaudeville acts were able to jump from stage to screen with great success.  Acts like Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy were massive successes but none were ever able to achieve the following of The Marx Brothers.   Today my film is their first with MGM entitled A Night at the Opera.

The Marx Brothers team together to put two opera singers in a big show in New York and help them fall in love while showcasing their madcap antics to the grief of an opera program director and a woman trying to break into high society.

Rather than spend too much time going over the plot and story of this film, I’d rather wax poetic about these three brothers and the years of entertainment they have given me over the years.

The Marx Brothers are still, even after all these years, one of my favorite comedy teams to grace the silver screen.  Honing their talents on the stage of Vaudeville, they took years and years of perfecting their craft before even going on the silver screen.  Paramount took the chance of putting their antics on film for mass audiences to enjoy the slapstick humor mixed with verbal stabs that would be their calling card.  It was at this time that they would put out classics like Coconuts, Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup.  Duck Soup would be their biggest movie with critics but bombed at the box office.  This would eventually lead to their dismissal from Paramount.

Numbers at the box office was not their only reason for Paramount for getting rid of Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Groucho.  While on set, they were virtually uncontrollable and refused to film unless their ideas were put in scripts.  Directors would literally walk off set because of the difficulty the brothers displayed, but it was their intervention and refusal to put out a bad product that made their Paramount movies a success with the fans rather than in box office receipts.

MGM took the chance to give the brothers one last shot at movie star status.  However, instead of 90 minutes of the brothers running mad around the set and ad-libbing dialog like crazy, they gave them strict scripts to follow.  Their first was A Night at the Opera, and while it was successful at the box office, it was a failure in the eyes of the fans.

A Night at the Opera is fun, but only in parts.  Instead of being the main focal point, allowing the brothers to do what they do best with verbal jabs and pratfall humor, they played second fiddle to plot and story.  A majority of the plots in their MGM movies involved some kind of love story where the brothers, through humor helped the two lovers of the story find each other.  A Night at the Opera is no different.

One plus is that we get to see the musical side of Chico and Harpo during their MGM years and in my movie I watched today.  Harpo was an acclaimed and classically trained harp and piano player while Chico was also an accomplished piano player in his own right.  They kept interest in these down times of the movie by playing these beautiful musical pieces with comical panache.

I know from just reading this that one can formulate my distaste for this film and a majority of their MGM films and I will be truthful.  I do enjoy their Paramount films and their much later United Artists releases, but there are enough of the good parts to make me like A Night of the Opera.  While I would choose to watch the early stuff more than anything else, if they are on TV or I need a good laugh, I will pop in just about anything with Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo.

4/5

James

  The Last Picture Show (1971)

Dir. Peter Bogdanovich

Starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd

Ranked #95 on AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time

 

Welcome to the world where parental figures are the furthest thing from being actual parents and everyone from the young to the old are kids in some way.  My 100 movies in 100 days bring me to a dirt town on the border of Texas in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show.

Sonny is the star football player in the small border town of Anarene in Texas.  He has a pretty boring life, lives in a boarding home and dates a rather plain and dumpy girl named Charlene.  He’s a friend with Duane who dates the prettiest and wealthiest girl in town named Jacy.  Her life isn’t all that grand either, her parents never talk nor seem in love and her mother is having an affair with an employee of her husbands.  When Sonny dumps Charlene, he starts an affair with the gym teacher’s wife Ruth.  Jacy seems irritated with life in general and falls for a boy at a naked pool party, but is rejected by him when he finds out she’s a virgin.  She sets out to lose her virginity, using Duane to lose it and dumps him afterwards.  Turns out that after she does, the boy she dumped Duane for has eloped with another girl.  This rejection sends Jacy down a dark path and eventually ends up with Sonny, who’s always had a thing for Jacy.  In the end, the patriarch of the town, Sam dies and leaves the place where everyone in town escapes, the movie theater to the counter girl, the diner to the waitress and the pool hall to Sonny.  His death signals a change in the lives of those living in town.

This town has to be the most boring town in the entire world because it seems that everyone sleeps with just about everyone, all to the soundtrack of Hank Williams playing in the background.  This town is restless, back dropped in the beginning of the Korean War, as are the youngsters that populate the town.  They are itching to start life, as are the adults, who thought that marriage would assure them ascension into the pearly gates.

Bogdanovich makes a film that flows and feels completely aimless and to tell you the truth, that is exactly the point here.  In this small dust bowl town in Texas, dreams and goals have little use and the morals that the townfolks have are mostly for show than anything else.

A lot of the charm comes form the storytelling that is peppered by a cast of veteran actors and virtual unknowns.  The tiptop of these actors comes in the form of Jeff Bridges, who brings the acting chops that he would display for decades to come in roles like The Big Lebowski and Crazy Heart.  Timothy Bottoms is excellent as the quiet and reserved Sonny.  By far Cybill Shepherd’s Jacy is fantastic as she uses sex not as pleasure but her means for getting out of the small town.  While sex is on the minds of all the people living there, the only warmth that comes from sexual liaisons is Cloris Leachman’s character of Ruth, who is married to a suspect gay husband and pines for the touch of Sonny.

A good movie that has excellent storytelling and character development, the fact that this was shot in black and white, very different for when it was filmed is what puts it over the top.

4/5

James

  The French Connection (1971)

Dir. William Friedkin

Starring Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider & Fernando Rey

Ranked #93 on AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time

 

 

Tonight my 100 movies in 100 days brings my to the Big Apple and the undercover narcotics world of Popeye Doyle in William Friedkin’s The French Connection.

Popeye Doyle and his partner Buddy are undercover narcotics detectives working in the Bedford-Stuyvesant part of Brooklyn.  When hard drugs start becoming scarce in the city, Popeye and Buddy start investigating and come across a man named Sal Boca, a small time crook.  Tailing him eventually leads him to a French Connection, where pure heroine is coming from Marseilles in France to America totaling about 32 million dollars.  The Frenchman is connected with the moneyman and the mafia by ways of a famous French actor and his car.

While a majority of the films on this list are completely story driven, this is not one of them.  Not even close as everything about this film is all on the surface.  We are talking about ramped up energy and excitement from the very beginning to the very end and while this is all happening, it seems as if the story is second thought.  Don’t get me wrong, the story is compelling enough but with everything happening so quickly around you, it seems that you don’t have enough time to get into the story.

Character development is another afterthought where the only character that seems to have any kind of depth is Popeye Doyle, played by Gene Hackman.  Popeye is so singularly focused and obsessed with taking the bad guys down that what starts as a job becomes his only reason for breathing and living.  It’s this obsession that drives him far beyond the madness he already exhibits in the opening scenes of the film.

The best way to go into this film is to understand that unlike Bullitt, which is considered to have the most spectacular car chase scene in film ever, The French Connection is just one large chase scene.  It moves so fast and so furious that it leaves you stunned at the end of it.  Friedkin did this intentionally and you are never left with a full breath throughout the entire 104 minutes of this film.  Of course the actual chase scene, where the car has to do 70 mph just to keep up with the train that the drug dealers are using to escape Popeye is about as thrilling as any of the other great chase scenes in movie history.

Don’t think I didn’t like this film at all.  While I sat on the edge of my seat for most of this film, it was a great time watching this movie for the first time.  The story is great, most of the acting is fun but what this film leaves with me is an action movie that is never dull or action that lulls anywhere.

4/5

James