Saturday, May 9, 2015

Screening Log: This Year's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" Films, March-May

A few quick reviews of the films we've watched so far for The Film Experience's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot;" clicking the link in the film's title will take you to that film's article.

The Sound of Music (dir. Robert Wise, 1965)

Rightfully considered a classic. Visually, everything about this musical is big, from the mansion in which the Von Trapps reside to the dominating mountains of the surrounding Austrian Alps. Yet the story itself is beautifully small, with Julie Andrews doing phenomenal work at making Maria a woman who is wholly herself. The songs are excellent, Andrews and Christopher Plummer are a white-hot pairing of romantic chemistry, and the whole film is damn near perfect. May the hills always be this alive. A+

Paris is Burning (dir. Jennie Livingston, 1990)

An essential documentary from a voice that has virtually disappeared since. A glimpse into New York's ball scene - a haven for the disenfranchised - provides a powerful study of race, sexuality, gender, and class in post-Reagan America. That many aspects of these balls have permeated popular culture only cements its importance as a LGBTQ document. A

The Quiet Man (dir. John Ford, 1952)

This Ireland-set romantic comedy earned Ford his fourth and final Best Director Oscar, and for good reason: it's a lush production that features gorgeous images of the rolling landscape of the Emerald Isle. John Wayne delivers the finest performance of his career as an ex-boxer looking to purchase his ancestral land, and Maureen O'Hara is terrific as his love interest. In it's best moments, the two get a chance to smolder. Yet the film meanders a tad too much to make it truly great. B+

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (dir. Vittorio de Sica, 1963)

An anthology of three stories starring Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, de Sica's film is a study in how two of the hottest stars in the world can come together to set the screen ablaze. Of the three films, the middle one is the weakest, built on a premise that barely sustains its brief running time. But the other two are so terrific that they elevate the whole thing to a classic of '60s Italian cinema. A

Mommie Dearest (dir. Frank Perry, 1981)

Nowhere the near the disaster of its reputation, the film is actually more of a colossal miscalculation: a biopic based on rumor and hearsay rather than concrete fact. Still, Faye Dunaway is nothing short of amazing in the role of Joan Crawford, giving herself over completely to every withering stare, cutting remark, and flight of insanity. It's a truly phenomenal piece of acting in an otherwise dull film. The film: B- Dunaway: A+

Johnny Guitar (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1954)

A revisionist Western with a counterculture bent, the film is playful with Western tropes and anchored by a terrific pair of performances from Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge, playing bitter rivals. Though the film loses momentum in its second act, it closes with a mad fury, making it a fun curio of the studio system's final years. B

Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Also rightfully considered a classic. Martin Scorsese's direction is masterfully controlled, every image loaded with information, every movement studied and deliberate. Robert De Niro's performance reveals new dimensions of Travis Bickle every time, and Cybill Shepherd absolutely radiates as the lone angel in this NYC hellscape. It may be Scorsese's best film. A+

Nine to Five (dir. Colin Higgins, 1980)

A fun, progressively feminist comedy that makes the most of its leads in Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. All three are fantastic, and the film is at its best when it allows the women to hang out and swap revenge fantasies. Though the film's second half isn't quite as high, it still manages to entertain and make a salient point about how women are treated in the workplace. B+

Bright Star (dir. Jane Campion, 2009)

Choosing to make a film about John Keats' (Ben Whishaw) oft-forgotten lover and muse, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), proves to be a sharp return-to-form for director Jane Campion. The film is lush and beautiful to look at, thanks in large part to Greig Fraser's impeccable cinematography. But the film's real power comes from the restrained, endearing performances by Cornish and Whishaw, as well as a scene-stealing turn from Paul Schneider as Keats' best friend. Moving and elegiac, it makes a thoroughly touching romance. A-

Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941)

What else is there left to say about this film? It's rightfully considered one of the greatest films ever made, all the more impressive considering that Welles was a Hollywood newbie who had never directed, written, or starred in a movie before doing this one. Welles delivers a master class in acting; the scene in which Charles Foster Kane (Welles) attends his second wife's (Dorothy Comingore) opera debut is stunning in Welles' controlled facial expressions, conveying volumes of information without speaking a word. Quite simply, this is one of the rare films that everyone must see. A+

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