Saturday, March 13, 2010

#69 North By Northwest: Assault with a gun and a bourbon and a sports car

1959. dir. Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau.

Seen it before? Yes.

One of Hitchcock's best-known movies. I'm sure everyone has seen it, or is at least familiar with the most famous scenes (like the plane in the cornfield, or the chase atop Mt. Rushmore).

Cary Grant plays Roger O. Thornhill, a Madison Avenue avenue ad exec who gets caught up in a whirlwind of murder and espionage due to a case of mistaken identity. See, he's out for drinks, and somebody thinks he's this guy George Kaplan, and so these guys (James Mason as the villainous Mr. Vandamm, and his various lackeys, one of was played by a young Martin Landau) kidnap him to try to see what he knows. He of course knows nothing, so they try to kill him, in the dumbest way possible: get him really drunk, then put him behind the wheel of a car. Needless to say the plan fails, and he merely gets arrested, and spends the night in the drunk tank. So at this point he could have just walked away, and I wonder why he didn't. But I guess then the movie would be over...

Anyway I don't want to say too much more because that would ruin the surprise. Oh yes, there's the obligatory love interest played by Eva Marie Saint. You know, I don't care how good looking someone is - if I was on the run from shadowy forces who were trying to kill me, and some woman I just met told me to go to some bus stop in the middle of nowhere, I don't think I would trust her. I mean, come on. How stupid are you?

Position on the list: 32
Hitchcock's cameo: Right at the end of the credits... he tries to get on a bus... you can't miss it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

#68 The Departed: You were like different people!

2006. dir. Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Mark Walberg.

Seen it before? Several times.

Business travel sucks... we're falling behind with this shit....

Fortunately I have a video iPod so I can watch this delightful little romp, about spying and betrayal and Boston's organized crime scene. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, who is sent by the Boston Massachusetts state police to infiltrate the Costello organization. Jack Nicholson plays Frank Costello, who send his protege Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) to interfere with the police. And thus ensues a high-stakes chess match, as Sullivan and Costigan race to track each other down.

It's a Scorsese movie so there's lots of fun violence and swearing. The supporting cast is great; I loved Ray Winstone as Mr. French and Mark Walberg as the profane Sgt. Dignam. Of course Alec Baldwin is great too. Didn't really care for Vera Farmiga, but she does strip down to her underwear at one point so all is forgiven. Also I thought Jack Nicholson was way too Jack Nicholson-y. When exactly did he become a parody of himself?

Position on the list: 50
The ending: I think Ralph Wiggum said it best: "The rat is a symbol for obviousness!"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

#67 The Deer Hunter: This is this

1978. dir. Michael Cimino, starring Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep, John Cazale.

Seen it before? No.

And so now we come to the sad tale of Michael Cimino, one of Hollywood's great one-hit wonders. Long story short, he made this movie, which was a critical and commercial success. He was given total artistic freedom on his next movie, Heaven's Gate, which was such a huge flop that it almost single-handedly bankrupted United Artists. He's apparently made a couple other movies since, but nothing remarkable or interesting.

But anyway. Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage play three steelworkers who live in western PA. They decide to go to Vietnam because I guess they think it will be a fun adventure, like when they go deer hunting. It ends up not being fun for anyone - they get captured by the Viet Cong and forced to play Russian Roulette at gunpoint. The trauma of the experience causes lingering mental problems for the three of them, particularly Walken's character, who begins playing the game on his own for money.

The Russian Roulette scenes are almost unwatchably tense, so good job on those, I guess... but why was this movie 3 hours long? The opening scenes, in which we get introduced to the characters via a wedding scene and a deer hunt, take up nearly an hour of screentime. Wedding scenes are tricky things for a movie. It's really hard to make them not boring. Otherwise you end up with a movie like Rachel Getting Married, which was like watching the wedding video of someone you don't know. I don't have a problem with long movies, per se; one of my all time favorites is Godfather II, which is 3 hours and 15 minutes. But you have to earn that extra length, and I don't think this movie did. It would have had a lot more impact if it was 45-60 minutes shorter.

This was one of the first major film roles for Meryl Streep, and her first Oscar nomination. Also, sadly, this is the final role of John Cazale, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer before filming began. (He doesn't look so good, the poor guy.)

Position on the list: 132
"Stanley, see this?: This is this. This ain't something else. This is this." Seriously, what the hell was that dialogue supposed to mean? I don't get it