Monday, March 28, 2011

Nights of Cabiria (1957)


Nights of Cabiria
Paramount, 1957

Producer:  Dino De Laurentiis
Director:  Federico Fellini
Cast:  Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Amedeo Nazzari
Writers:  Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini
Cinematography:  Aldo Tonti, 
Otello Martelli


Editing: Leo Cattozzo
Music:  Bonagura, Nino Rota

Country:  Italy
Running time: 117 minutes
Color:  Black and White
Aspect Ratio:  1.33 : 1
Language:  Italian

Plot

The misadventures of an Italian prostitute as she roams the streets looking for love, but 
frequently encounters heartbreak.  She finally meets an upstanding young gentleman and falls
for him... is he the one that will save her from this life? Or will she be humiliated yet again?

Awards, Honors, Reception

Academy Awards
Winner:  Best Foreign Language Film - Italy

BAFTA Awards
Nominated:  Best Film from any Source 
Nominated:  Best Foreign Actress - Giulietta Masina 

Cannes Film Festival
Winner:  Best Actress - Giulietta Masina 
Winner:  OCIC Award - Special Mention - Federico Fellini 
Nominated:  Palme d'Or - Federico Fellini 


Madonna, Madonna, help me to change my life. Bestow your grace on me too. Make me change my life.

Analysis

Italian post-war neo-realism is about many things, but mostly it's about human pathos.  "Nights of Cabiria" isn't so much concerned with the plot and the series of events that happen to Cabiria, but rather on what impact this has on her psyche. 

This film doesn't try to hide what Cabiria is.  She IS a prostitute.  She isn't the cliched "prostitute with a heart of gold."  But she is a prostitute with a heart, and is often breaking... despite her outward efforts to try and mask it.  Giulietta Masina, who stars in the title role and was also Fellini's wife, gives a beautiful performance.

You can not talk about this film without mentioning post-war Rome, which in and of itself is a character as well. One scene in the film depicts a good samaritan bringing food, clothes and supplies to many citizens left homeless from the ravages of war, all the while Cabiria tries to seduce the clearly un-interested man in a "date." While one man tries to help others, Cabiria is doing all she can to make her own way in this world. This is what Italian Neo Realism is all about.

But Cabiria is not without a sense of shame or pity. This is evident in one of the final scenes when she sells her humble house to a needy family in one of the more touching scenes in the film.  And that's the point. Cabiria, despite her profession is still a woman of high moral character. Disappointment after disappointment continue to rain down on her and she refuses to give up, she refuses to feel sorry for herself. At the end of the film, after a completely heartbreaking episode, she keeps her head held high and marches forward in a beautifully shot final scene by Fellini.

As mentioned before, Post-War Italian Neo Realism is about human pathos, and this film consistently delivers it from beginning to end.  

A beautiful film and a must-see for anyone interested in classic foreign cinema.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Broadway Melody (1929)



The Broadway Melody
MGM, 1929


Producer:  Irving Thalberg, Lawrence Weingarten
Director:  Harry Beaumont
Principal Cast:  Charles King, Anita Page, Bessie Love
Writers:  Edmund Goulding, Norman Houston, James Gleason
Cinematography:  John Arnold
Editing:  Sam S. Zimbalist, William LeVanway
Music:  Nacio Herb Brown, George M. Cohan, William Robison

Country:  United States
Running Time:  110 Minutes
Color:  Black & White
Aspect Ratio:  1.20 : 1
Language:  English


Plot



Hank & Queenie are a vaudeville sister act who come to New York City to make it on Broadway, with the help of Hank's boyfriend, Eddie Kearns.  Eddie inadvertantly falls in love with the beautiful Queenie, who also becomes a huge star, leaving her sister out of the spotlight.  Realizing that if Eddie leaves Hank it would devastate her, Queenie tries to protect her sister by getting involved with Jock Warriner, a member of New York high society.

Awards, Honors, Recognition


Academy Awards
Winner:  Outstanding Picture - MGM
Nomination:  Actress - Bessie Love
Nomination:  Direction - Harry Beaumont


Those men aren't going to pay ten bucks to look at your face; this is Broadway! 



Analysis

I try to watch everything I can.  Historically speaking this film is of a great deal of importance as it is the first-ever "talkie" to win the Academy Award for Best Picture... and it's a musical too.   Now what one has to realize when watching this film is that sound films, let alone musicals, were in their infancy.  So while today we are used to musicals being huge productions with extravagant sets and at least 5 or 6 show-stopping numbers, this film has about 5 songs total... and they're not exactly show stoppers.  Given that recording techniques were still new to the industry, the sound of the film is often times pretty terrible, and that camera shots never strayed from long wide shots or at most medium shots.  What a viewer has to realize is that Hollywood was in a transition period... moving from silent films to sound, so of course it's going to look and sound a little "off."  

Having said that, it's a very unique and interesting look at the beginning of Hollywood musicals on film.  The songs weren't quite as polished... the sets not quite as spectacular... but still, it is a unique and interesting experience.  One thing that The Broadway Melody does share in common with its musical bretheren is the melodrama.  THAT it has plenty of.  Hank loves Eddie.  Queenie loves Eddie.  Eddie loves Queenie and Hank.  Queenie and Hank are sisters.  Jock wants Queenie, which makes Eddie jealous.  And so on, etc. etc.

Of the three main actors, Bessie Love is probably the most effective, even though Anita Page is probably more fondly remembered.  However, Beesie's character, Hank, is the most interesting.  Hank must choose between sacrificing her own happiness or her sister's happiness, and Bessie Love never goes over-the-top when she certainly could have.  Not like that stopped Charles King, who was a complete ham in his role as Eddie Kearns.  But I can forgive it, because as stated earlier this was a transition period for Hollywood, and acting for a silent film is much different than acting for a "talkie."

If you're a film history junkie (like me) or someone interested in early Hollywood musicals, watch this film.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Nightmare on Elm Street Double Feature


A Nightmare on Elm Street

The Stats

The Director:  Wes Craven
The Writer:  Wes Craven
The Stars:  Heather Lagenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Release Date:  1984

Run Time:  91 Minutes
Color:  Color
Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1
Language:  English

Whatever you do don’t fall asleep.

The Plot

Teenagers on Elm Street are being murdered under mysterious and violent circumstances… and they’re always asleep when it happens.  What dark secrets does this average, American street hold?

The Analysis

The first, and best, of the franchise, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” rose above the “dead teenager slasher” films of the 80′s and dared to do something different. Yeah, there were still dead teenagers… but the new imagery and special effects that Craven brought to the big screen at the time were unparalleled. The story still feels fresh and innovative.  Plus, it’s kind of hilarious to see a young Johnny Depp in his first major motion picture role.  The re-make of this classic is awful, so don’t EVER watch that one.  Instead, watch the ORIGINAL Freddy Kruger, one of the greatest on-screen villains.

Check out the trailer

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

The Stats

The Director:  Wes Craven
The Writer:  Wes Craven
The Stars:  Heather Lagenkamp, Robert Englund

Release Date: 1994
Run Time:  112 Minutes
Color
Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1
Engilsh

This is still a script, right, Wes?

The Plot

Heather Lagenkamp plays herself as a semi-retired actress with a wife and family.  It’s nearing the 10th Anniversary of the release of the original film, and strange things start to happen.  Wes Craven reveals to her that he’s been writing a new “Nightmare” script that’s eerily similar to all the events that are happening in reality.  Sometimes the page can’t contain pure evil…

The Analysis

After a string of awful sequels that followed the original, “New Nightmare” takes a new approach towards the Freddy Krueger franchise and blurs the line between reality and fiction. In this film the Krueger character is bleeding into the “real world” and starts to terrorize Heather Lagenkamp, the actress who played “Nancy” in the original “Nightmare.” Craven, probably realizing what a joke his franchise had become, took Freddy back to basics and eliminated (most) of the cheesy one liners and made him terrifying again… complete with a new razor blade hand and a new make-up look and costume design. “New Nightmare” is the best “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequel.

Friday, March 11, 2011

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)


From Dusk Till Dawn

The Stats

Director:  Robert Rodriguez
Writers: Quentin Tarantino & Robert Kurtzman
Actors:  George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson
Producers:  Gianni Nunnari, Meir Teper
Cinematography:  Guillermo Navarro

Release Date: 1996
Run Time:  108 Minutes
Color:  Technicolor
Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1
Language:  English, Spanish

Did they look like psychos? Is that what they looked like? They were vampires. Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don’t give a fuck how crazy they are!

The Plot

Fugitive bank robbers, Seth and Richie Gecko, kidnap an ex-preacher and his two children to get across the border into Mexico to evade capture.  Ending up at an all night biker bar, they encounter an unholy surprise.

Analysis

From start to finish, this film is pretty much pure and complete insanity from the mind of Robert Rodriguez.  Half crime thriller and half vampire splatter-fest, this film pretty much never stops the action from beginning to end.

The fist half is a suspenseful crime film.  Everything is beautifully set-up and explained.  We get character backgrounds and exposition.  Who are the Gecko brothers? Why are they on the run? Who is the Fuller family? Why are they traveling cross-country? Why has the preacher lost his faith?  Then the two sets of families cross paths and the story really begins.  The two fugitive bank robbers take a family hostage to Mexico in an effort to escape U.S. justice. Then half-way through the movie… BAM! Vampires. It never apologizes for it’s ridiculousness and it’s fucking tremendous.

There in lies its brilliance.  It sets up a great story and gives you a ton of character development and almost throws it all out the window.  Except it really doesn’t.  All of the character development that was built up before the vampire slaughter still comes into play in the climactic moments of the film.  You do care for these characters.  Thanks in no small part also to the tremendous performances of George Clooney as Seth Gecko and Harvey Keitel as Reverend Fuller.  For those who have really only ever seen Clooney as the charming, debonair type, you really need to see him as Seth Gecko… a violent bad-ass.

On top of everything else, the vampire scenes are fun. Sometimes really goofy, but oftentimes incredibly violent.  The Make-Up Effects team did an incredible job with the vampire creature effects.  Interestingly enough, this film did the “bumpy forehead” vampire look BEFORE the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series made it popular.

The Lowdown

From Dusk Till Dawn is half crime movie, half vampire movie… but all awesome.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Watch the Horror Classic “Night of the Living Dead” Free Online

Thanks to the power of modern technology, and for that matter the power of the public domain, “Night of the Living Dead” is available to watch for free on YouTube HERE. If you’ve never checked it out, do yourself a favor and do so. Watch the zombie movie that started it all. Enjoy!