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Saturday, June 30, 2012

West Side Story: 1961

Composer: Leonard Bernstein
Playwright: Arthur Laurents
Adapted from: Romeo and Juliet
Lyricist: Stephen Sondheim
Characters: Schrank, A-rab, Baby John, Maria, Bernardo, Tony, Action, Doc, Anita, Riff, Chino

   Romeo and Juliet. The timeless story about a boy and a girl who fall in love with each other, but are torn apart by their families, who have hated each other since who knows how long ago. You've all heard this story before, so why am I telling this to you? Well, because this kind of plot is timeless within itself, and can be told forever, and whenever. But this, my friends...this is special. And not only that, but I like this film more than any other film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet manufactured by human hands. Let me tell you why.

   West Side Story is an example of how a plot such as this can be adapted to various time periods. Our two families are now Americans and Puerto Ricans. They both hate each other, accept for an American named Tony, and a Puerto Rican named Maria. Maria's brother, Bernardo, and Tony's friend, Riff are the leaders of both groups, and are also the ones that are killed from each side.  And, besides the fact that our Juliet does not die in the end with our Romeo, those are the only changes.  The rest is the same, only updated to fit with the time it was made. But in an adaptation of Romeo And Juliet, the story is not the aspect everyone is looking forward to because almost everyone knows the story, or at least the basic premise.  And this is where West Side Story really shines, because believe it or not, this film is a musical.

 The music in this movie is wonderful!  Composer Leonard Bernstein and Lyricist Sephen Sondheim did a fantastic job creating the songs in West Side Story.  The music is great, and coupled with even better choreography.  But how can simply writing about the music be enough.  So I'll post my top five favorite songs from the film.

#5:  Something's Coming

#4:  Quintet

#3:  America

#2:  Jet's Song

#1:  Cool

  Well, that's my list.  I hope it didn't take up too much space on the review, and try not to take the list too seriously.  It's my own opinion and we're each entitled to one.  I didn't list "Maria", or "Gym Mambo"  because there wasn't enough space, but those are two other scenes that are great.  And this movie was wonderful!  I suppose for me it's a little better because it adds allot of nostalgic value, being that I watched this many times before as a younger person.  But if you haven't seen "West Side Story", go!  Right now!  Go and get it!  Please, by any means, obtain this film.  Watch it!  Put it on your action/item list.  I have not yet heard of a person who has died, and not seen this film.  Don't blame me though, it's not common knowledge people just throw around.


Next Review:  Singin' in the Rain 1952

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Treasure of the Sierra Madre: 1948

Initial release date: 1948
Director: John Huston
DVD release date: September 30, 2003
Story: B. Traven
Music: Max Steiner

   Here we have yet another inspiration of cinema to contribute to the Indiana Jones films.  "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" is an adventure film, that focuses more on the reality that is digging for gold, surviving out in the wild, and trying to make a living off of this bountiful restitution.  In a sense, it is much more than a film about gold fever, because there really is no such thing.  "Gold fever" is not the longing to get rich quick.  It's survival in every sense of the word.  The toil of life itself, and the excuse that, someday everyone goes a little loony from the deprivation of a simple life.

   Like in most of the films he's done, Humphrey Bogart is wonderful in the portrait of his roles...or in this case...a psychopath.  Yes it's true, every other minuet he's blaming his friends, and accusing everybody of stabbing him in the back.  This is his character ark, and it is simply flawless.  He starts out as a wandering, squandering, down-on-his-luck American in a small Mexican town, to a wandering, hallucinating, soon-to-be-down-on-his-luck, American, on the outskirts of a small Mexican town.  There is a scene where his character, Dobbs, had just killed another man.  He says, "Conscience, what a thing.  If you believe you've got a conscience it'll pester ya to death.  But if you don't believe ya got one, what could it do to ya?"  he finds out soon enough.

   This movie was a wonderful western and well worth the genre.  It's a very real film, meaning that it focuses on reality being the villain.  Everyone then believed that digging for gold was difficult, but like this...never!  It gives away allot of new information about digging for gold, as well as advice when avoiding the hazards that come along with it.  There are three characters in this film which each symbolize a different kind of preparedness for this kind of job.  Tim Holt's character symbolizes the one that is willing to learn from his mistake and eager to learn.  Bogart's character symbolizes the reckless one.  The one seduced by the mountain that gave them the gold, and the one who paid the price for it.  And finally, Walter Hutson plays the experienced one.  The character who's already been through everything, and when the day is done he has no problem laughing about it.  But believe me, it takes a pretty experianced soul to laugh at the dangers that were right on their tails the whole journey through the treasure of the sierra madre!


Watch the Trailer Here
Next Review:  West Side Story 1961


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Star Trek: 2009

Initial release date: April 6, 2009
Director: J.J. Abrams
DVD release date: November 17, 2009
Prequel: Star Trek Nemesis
Sequel: Star Trek 2

   What can you say about Star Trek?  Well, it's a mixed opinion kind of thing.  Some people like it, and others...not so much.  In my opinion, the show was corny, but I still enjoyed it.  I liked the premise of the show, which is explained in its introduction.  "Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."  This was what Star Trek would be based around in every episode.  The characters would come across a planet, or an object, or another ship, and they would either explore, research, defend, or attack it.  It made for a lot of situations this crew could be pitted against.  And leading this ongoing struggle for discovery, was Captain James Tiberius Kirk.  Played by William Shatner, Captain Kirk has become classic within the science fiction genre.  However, in the year of 2009, Kirk and his crew would receive a face-lift by J.J Abrams and revive a classic science fiction show, in the form of a film.  This is my review of "Star Trek."

   "Star Trek", despite its late release, has some connection to the films that came before it. This star trek film fits in between Star Trek Nemesis, one of the next generation films, and Star Trek 2.  However, the film doesn't try to force its place in the timeline, and try to explain its position within it.  This is one of the reasons why J.J Abrams' Star Trek pleases audiences from both sides of the spectrum.  The Trekkie's and the...not Trekkie's.  This film follows James Kirk's and Spock's lives, tuning in on their origin, and the events leading up to, and following their acceptance into Star Fleet.  Our villains are Romulains, and their leader Nero, who while time jumping to and fro between several realities witnesses the destruction of his planet.  For this he blames Spock and has set out to avenge his kind.  

   I am very glad that J.J Abrams waited the amount of time that he did to make a star trek film, because of the many technological advances made in the last five years have been tremendous.  Normally I don't enjoy CG in films, because often times the director may overuse it (ahem* the star wars prequels).  But I loved every second of the CG in this movie.  I mean it, everything was spot on, and I honestly have no complaints whatsoever. The chaotic lighting darting blindly across space, the creaking hull of the ship's exterior as it avoids suspended rubble, the lighting fast decent onto the planet Vulcan as three vessels are airdropped from several hundred thousand kilometers above ground.  The kind of CG in this film was what the original Star Trek needed, but could not yet attain.  J.J Abrams, created the modern equivalent of the show in a nutshell (updated to 2009 standards), but it may have disappointed fans who enjoyed the cheesiness of the show.  Then again, how well do you think the film would have done if he had directed Star Trek by that standard?  Not too well I should think.

   I have a gripe with this film as well, and it's the villain.  Nero, our Romulan antagonist, is bent on destroying Spock.  And I didn't really want to go into the whole history of Romulus, but...I did a little research.  If you don't care for explanation like this, skip past the italic text.  Okay, so Romulus was created by people who were once Vulcan, but not anymore because they rebelled, and so now these people have created a separate race of Vulcan who are now evil, and so this is why Nero, the Villain we're focusing on in this film, wants Spock dead and anyone else related to him because he's the other kind of Vulcan and the remainder of a dying race, because Nero destroyed his planet so that he could show Spock what it was like to live alone, but this was happening in two different alternate realities; one where Nero marooned the old Spock on a different planet to witness the destruction of his planet by Nero, and the other; where young Spock goes down to his planet when it's being destroyed to save his culture, only in the reality with old Spock, Nero's planet had already been destroyed and he thought that it was old Spock's fault because he failed to absorb the black hole that caused the destruction of his planet with red matter, and all the while Nero continues to jump in and out of the black hole into alternate realities, where sometimes Kirk grows up with his dad and sometimes he doesn't, because the black hole appeared and destroyed the S.S Kelvin, the ship that Kirk's father piloted for ten minutes and died in!   But you don't have to read all that if you don't want to.  Although Nero had enough back stories, and enough of a reason to want to kill Spock, he just turned out to be a very weak character.  But I can't blame J.J Abrams for that, because it's natural consensus that Kahn is by far the greatest Star Trek villain of all time (or at least I think so).  But Abrams knew that he couldn't use this villain, because the timeline wouldn't fit in, and it would be very predictable.  The director went out on a limb, but at least it was to try something new.  Not the best villain, but it doesn't take away too much from the film.

   Holy hot @#!*%!  This was a good movie.  J.J Abrams not only brought our attention back to a franchise that had grown bigger than life itself, but introduced it to brand new audiences successfully.  Now that takes some skills to pull off!  It might have updated it today's standards of film action-wise, but it might as well, seeing as we haven't yet witnessed a Star Trek film with this high caliber of CG action.  It was exciting!  And all that coupled with an amazing cast, attention to detail, and nostalgic value, I'd watch this baby any day.


 Next Review:  Treasure of the Sierra Madre 1948

Monday, June 18, 2012

Touch of Evil: 1958

Release date: April 23, 1958 (USA)
Director: Orson Welles
DVD release date: October 31, 2000
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Music: Henry Mancini

   The genre of Film Noir has, like other genres of film, recognizable features.  Dark alleys, lonely street corners, detectives, mystery, murder, shadows, and the femme fatale, who can sometimes be more dangerous than the case itself.  This genre was very popular during the 40's and early 50's.  However, during the year of 1958, Film Noir was not as popular as before.  Film viewers found it a bit strange when Orson Welles directed his tribute to the genre titled, "Touch of Evil." The film was based off of the novel, "Badge of Evil" and would once again ignite the flame that was and always shall be, Black Film.

   "Touch of Evil" is a story about a narcotics investigator, Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) stumbling across a murder case involving a family of gangsters in the town of Los Robles.  He teams up with the local detective, Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), but later finds that Quinlan is not to be trusted with.  The setting of Los Robles is a refreshing take for a Film Noir.  I think there are allot of different settings that would would prove to be quite interesting.  Big crowded streets, desolate hotels, loud tattered nightclubs, and lone, dark apartment floors.  I'm very glad that Orson Welles used this kind of setting for this kind of film.  I think it creates a different kind of an experience of viewers accustomed to these recognizable features.  This way allot of new suspense is added, towards the situation Heston is put in.  I approve of this new re-imagination of the Film Noir setting.  

   The lighting in this film is incredible (most Film Noir's are).  I know that there are films that have this kind of technique, but I'm gonna write about it like Iv'e never seen it before.  Welles did his homework with the lighting in this film.  The camera is positioned so that the shadows are clean, and cutting across the scene.  This is a sign that the condition of the light is very healthy.  There is not one scene where some form of lighting isn't used.  One of the reasons that you can tell that the film is a tribute to other Film Noir's is because of the various styles of lighting throughout this film.  Dark shadows on characters eyes, or hiding their whole face, characters moving through slits of light to make a dark/light contrast, etc.  

   For a film made as a tribute to its genre, It really seems like "Touch of Evil" stands on its own when it's put next to similar classics, such as "The Maltese Falcon."  It shows that a film can be as dark as any other film of this genre, in almost any location, being that the film is set in a town on the Mexican Border.  It succeeds in being chilling, but more importantly, it succeeds as a Film Noir, in every definition of the term.  Orson Welles had been ridiculed several times during his career in the film business, especially with "Citizen Kane" which we can all recognize now as his magnum opus of films.  This film not only surpasses the proof that Orson Welles knows Film Noir, but film itself.


Watch the Trailer
Next Review:  Star Trek 2009

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pulp Fiction: 1994

Initial release date: October 14, 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
DVD release date: May 19, 1998
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

   Quentin Tarantino might possibly be one of the greatest directors of all time. His directions are original, and his writing is without a doubt the most down to earth and understandable out of anything otherwise written for film. The most prominent example of this kind of dialogue is shown through his 1994 film, “Pulp Fiction,” where plot is unbound by dialogue, and chronologically non-linear. This is, "Pulp Fiction"

   Pulp Fiction translates out to, "fiction dealing with lurid (rich in color) and sensational subjects, often printed on rough, low-quality paper manufactured from wood pulp." And that's exactly what the film is about. "Pulp Novels," as they are more commonly referred to, were popular in the 1920's and often dealt with science fiction, or just fiction in general. This type of work would continue to be popular among readers during the 30's. However when WWII reared its head, this type of publishing would become unwanted, and things like comic books and television would take its place.

   Consider the idea if something representing this kind of writing were to be produced in the early 90's.  This is that movie, and it has such a natural disposition for itself, as if it actually belonged in this era of film.  One contributing feature for this film is that it has allot of humor that doesn't force itself.  It also has much more dark humor rather, than light, and I like that.  There is a scene where Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), and Vincent (John Travolta) are driving down the road with a hostage in the back, discussing the idea of divine intervention. Vincent turns around to face the hostage, and asks him for his opinion on the situation.  It is then that Vincent's finger slips on the trigger of the gun he was holding and shoots Marvin in the face.  This whole situation escalates to the point where they have to drive the car to Jules' friend's house.  Jimmy (Quentin Tarantino), isn't fond of this idea and get Jules to contact Wolf (Harvey Keitel) to solve the problem.

  Quentin Tarantino explains in an interview that his dialogue is for the most part, unconstrained to an actual script.  When a person is acting with mostly ad libbed dialogue, they find the need to swear.  This is where that natural flow of conversation is coming from.  I have seen many movies, and some, if not most of them, have dialogue in a film to further a plot.  Sometimes this is the ONLY reason they do this, and it almost never works.  There are no painful expositions anywhere in the film, but you already know what you need to know.  The characters are always interesting, and the situations these characters get into are executed to perfection.  "Pulp Fiction"  is one of the films that you can quote from many times.  Try and think of one memorable quote from Avatar.  See?  

 Next Review:  Touch of Evil 1958 


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Zorro Rides Again: 1937

So, I got to thinking, “how could I follow up my reviews of the Indiana Jones Franchise?”  And, here it is.  Zorro Rides again was a serial made in the 1930’s, directed by William Whitney and John English.  These two people had rich experience with westerns before, and are known for Bonanza, The Adventures of Kit Carson, Frontier Doctor, and Zorro’s Fighting Legion.   “Zorro Rides Again,” is just one of the many other serials that the character of Zorro is a part of.  But before I get into reviewing the serial, let’s look at a little background regarding our protagonist.  The character of Zorro was created by writer Johnston McCulley, for his serialized novel The Curse of Capistrano in 1919.  Later it would be up to Douglas Fairbanks to kick-start the franchise into popularity.  He did this by creating, “The Mark of Zorro,” a now 1920’s classic.  In 1957, Disney began a television show for Zorro.  It had a huge affect on the T.V industry of film, because at the time, it was the highest budgeted western, and it created an explosive merchandising craze.  Zorro undoubtedly had a special place reserved for him in the golden age of film. 

“Zorro Rides Again,” follows the progress of the California Yucatan Railroad being built by James Vega, Grandson of the original Zorro, and Joyce and Philip Andrews, as well as the financial pirate, Marsden and his plans to destroy it along with his stooge, El Lobo.  Each episode pits James Vega as Zorro against various schemes thought up by Marsden in order to destroy the railroad.  Sometimes it’s a bomb hidden in a cabin next to the Railroad, and other times it’s a plane told to gun the train down.  And at the end of every episode, there would be a cliff-hanger.  Many shows would adopt this method of keeping the audience’s attention and excitement until the next episode, such as the television rendition of Batman, made in the 60’s.  Remember this? “Has Batman struck out?  Is Robin cool for good?  Can no-one save our noble pair of human popsicles?  Answers tomorrow night, same time, same channel!  A word of warning:  by watching, you too can lose your cool!”  Although much different of an approach, it is a very effective attention grabber.  This serial is twelve episodes long, and had with it many interesting titles, such as, “Plunge of Peril,” and, “Tunnel of Terror.”

Although not cinematic magnum opuses of their time, they were fun to watch back then, and even today they are welcomed into the action genre library of film.  I don’t think that there was allot of other films made in the 30’s that could be compared to this.  The Zorro Serials represented a simpler time, where films were made short, and to entertain people.  They were pure, and the people that saw these films could either connect with the characters, or the experience of the film.  I know, these aren’t per say, “good films,” but that’s not what I’m saying.  The real reason that people won’t leave Zorro alone, is because he defined a genre of film that has grown too high nowadays to recognize its origin, which is why viewers cherish Indiana Jones for its simplicity, and its tribute towards the classic action films.  For me, it is much easier to film something you like, rather than something you don’t.  This is one reason why the Indiana Jones trilogy was so successful.  It is also one of the reasons why I now have much more respect for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

Two more reviewers will be added to Cult Classic Theater, and the majority of films that will be reviewed next are from the 90's 


Trailer for Zorro Rides Again
Next Review:  Pulp Fiction  1994