Posts Tagged ‘ Classic movies ’

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Five

I don’t feel like I’m rushing through these, but it may seem that way to anyone paying attention to these. I’m still giving these the reviews the same attention. It’s just apparent that getting close to the end has buoyed my enthusiasm, and that I’m ready to finish up this self-imposed project, tell myself that I can still see things through to the end and move on to next thing.

Can the next thing have a few bucks somewhere at the end?

Maybe so. It would seem that it depends mostly on me, and at least a little bit on good luck.

My luck has been better lately. We’ve been over this a few times now. I’m looking to take that luck into larger areas. It’s just a question of finding a way to get out the door.

Out the front?

That might work. I’m more of a kitchen window kind of guy, but I can be a gentleman once in a while.

Five more reviews. I hope everyone’s having as good a time with film reviews as is possible.

Hopefully, there will be a non-review between this and day twenty-six. We’ll see how things go. I’ve got a little bit of travel coming up, and that sometimes distracts me from active, responsible endeavors.

I’m getting better about that though.

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Five: Movie with the Most Beautiful Scenery

Manhattan (1979)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy

It’s a good thing the entire run of Woody Allen’s classic Manhattan is so perfect in every way. It would be a shame to have nothing to look forward to after those glorious, moving first few minutes. There are numerous stellar qualities to Manhattan, but it just wouldn’t be possible to enjoy them quite as much without those opening moments. This is my favorite Woody Allen movie, and there are at least partially ridiculous reasons for that. In just five minutes, Allen created the clearest, most stunning visual definition of New York that I have ever seen. It works beautifully as an opening to the movie itself and nothing more, but its personal meaning to me is greater than that.

And in terms of building on that initial image of the city Manhattan gets better and better as it goes on.

When I was little, I had serious doubts that I would ever get to see New York City for myself. Lake Cowichan, British Columbia was a long way indeed from many of the cities I saw in films and dreamed of one day visiting myself. Not one place fueled those dreams more than New York.

Yeah, I totally do idolize it all out of proportion.

I guess that makes sense considering Ghostbusters was the first movie I ever remember seeing. Big was another film that I saw around that same time, too. Both movies presented a view of a city that not only seemed limitless in its fantastic possibilities and history (I was a weird kid) but were also supposedly very real. I wanted to know for myself. I wanted to stand amidst an ocean of noise, and look up at buildings that were taller than what I was actually capable of seeing.

I probably saw Manhattan when I was seven or eight, so it came a bit later in my early and continuing love affair with New York. It’s one of my mom’s favorite movies, so I’m pretty sure she rented it at some point in that time period. It wouldn’t have been the kind of movie I would have gone after on my own at that time. My mom has a deep love of movies, too. She’s not as hopelessly and pitifully obsessive about it as I am about it, but it was through her that I discovered a great many films as a kid that I still love to this day.

It doesn’t really matter when I found Manhattan. Strictly in terms of presenting the city at its most electrifying, most extraordinary and most romantic, Manhattan blows Ghostbusters, Big and just about anything else out of the water. It sends them somewhere in the neighborhood of a million miles into the sky.

It’s all that gorgeous black and white set against beautiful shot after shot of the city. I don’t think it has ever lost its potential for being whatever a person wants it to be. Tourist talk? Possibly. It might be easy for me to say all this, because I don’t live there, but I’ve been there a few times. Enough to at least be aware it’s nothing even close to perfect. It doesn’t have to be. Everything I’ve ever experienced in my few trips to New York still equals out to the most amazing city I’ve visited so far. The “So far” part is my favorite. Because New York reminds me that it’s impossible to ever see and do everything in this world that you would ever want to do. That can be alarming to some. It can even be depressing. It doesn’t worry me as much as it used to. This knowledge is not a big deal. The fun is in trying. New York is a perfect representation of that.

Of course you can’t forget that George Gershwin score. “Rhapsody in Blue” is unrelentingly gorgeous. Along with Allen’s voiceover that opening sequence is one of my favorites of all time. It sets a standard that only a truly perfect film could meet.

Thankfully, Manhattan is indeed quite perfect in every sense I can think of. The story leisurely moves us around the city, but it’s a good, funny, well-written and constantly entertaining story. It’s a story that is populated by the very best of Allen’s creativity. As both an actor and a creator of strong characters that are all at once capable of being amusing, neurotic (there’s a word that never, ever appears in an Allen film), annoying, petty, strange, moral, pathetic, hysterical and a thousand other traits and quirks that vie to be at the surface of everything going in their world. These are characters that could only exist in a story about New York, and it’s even possible that they could also only exist in a Woody Allen film. They are as much a part of the city’s constant, frantic heartbeat as the buildings, bridges, pollution and all the rest of it.

This is my favorite Allen performance, but more often than not, he’s overshadowed by what may well be the best assortment of actresses that can be found in any of his films. Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Mariel Hemmingway are all fantastic as three completely different women from three completely different ideas of what Allen’s character (not to mention his mostly useless friend, played quite well by Michael Murphy) thinks he wants. Each of them is worth their talent in gold for what they bring to the story. In a lot of ways they define the story. Between Allen’s writing and their performances I can’t imagine anyone else playing them. Allen’s best films, and I’d say there are quite a few that qualify as great, are examples of casting a movie to perfection. He has rarely taken a misstep in this area, and Manhattan is one of the best examples in his work. Even brief, supporting roles from Wallace Shawn and Michael O’Donoghue have a necessary place in my feelings on this film.

What amazes me is how much Allen supposedly hated Manhattan when he completed it. He even went so far as to try and have the film kept from release, in exchange for making a different movie for free. We’ll probably never know what his problem was with it. It’s well-established legend that he’s his own worst critic (or at least he wants us to think he is–Who knows?). None of that really matters. My ability to love a film is not contingent upon whether or not the people involved liked it, too. I consider Woody Allen to be a genius in his field. He’s entitled to think whatever he wants to. I’m not a genius in even the most kind-hearted sense of the word, but I still think I’m entitled to my opinion. People agreeing with my opinion is not essential, but it’s a nice plus that by and large, the general consensus on Manhattan is that it’s a pretty wonderful movie. Too bad Allen doesn’t seem to agree. It does make you wonder what would have been different from what we have, if he had been able to make the movie to his complete satisfaction. Maybe, it wouldn’t have been nearly as well-received. Maybe, it would have been even better. It’s not like we’re ever going to find out. Do you care? I sure don’t. Any change to this movie would be a small, film-related tragedy.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Eleven

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Eleven: Favorite Children’s Film

E.T. (1982)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace

One of my most random memories from childhood involves E.T. It’s the first thing I think about. When I was a kid the best place in Lake Cowichan, British Columbia to get comic books and magazines was a little Chinese restaurant that also doubled as a convenience store. It was a good place for such essentials as those stupid plastic paratroopers, designer chopsticks dusty children’s books. It was a small store, so going inside could be an overwhelming, claustrophobic experience. I wondered for years if anyone ever threw anything in the store away. It was a good place to get egg rolls, and censored copies of “Hustler”, but the trinkets never really caught on. I lived in Lake Cowichan for seven years. I can’t remember a time when I would go in, and everything around and behind the counter wasn’t exactly where it had been before. I have no idea if the store is still there, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it was, and not a single thing had changed.

The first things I’d look for would be the E.T. key chains that were sold right next to the condoms, and expired Chinese bikini calendars. I didn’t have the faintest desire to buy them, but they remained in their place, from around age three to when I moved away in 1995.

E.T. was released in 1982, so it had been already a part of the culture for three years, by the time I came along. I can’t remember the first time I saw it. I just know it was a movie I watched constantly, and this goes back as far as memory will allow. It was a lot like Ghostbusters. I just can’t imagine it not being a part of our VHS library.

It’s not hard for me to get pulled into a kid’s movies, and I’ll still go out of my way to see the ones, that I think are capable of being something special. That’s not a claim that looks really fits a single, childless man in his mid-twenties, but people would think I’m desperately strange whether or not I watched them. I may as well watch whatever the hell I want. If you want to blame anything, then you can blame having four younger siblings over a ten-year-period. Living with them meant living alongside their own childhoods.

Now, I have godchildren, so I may be watching this stuff (whether I want to or not) until roughly 2021, 2022.

That’s a scary thought. I already look like I slept a three-day bender in a bad Halloween costume. Time isn’t going to be kind to that image.

Children find me soothing. The reason for this remains a mystery to me.

A couple of things put E.T. above all the others. I firstly wanted to try and go out of my way to pick something that wasn’t animated. That thins out the list a bit. E.T. came to mind more than once, because it was the only one that really didn’t feel like a children’s movie. Of course, that’s the movie’s first and most obvious audience. Look it up on Netflix, and it’ll be under Children and Family. I’m not saying it isn’t foremost that kind of movie. It just never felt that way to me. When I was little I was aware that there were films distinctly for children, and others that were clearly meant for an older crowd (I tried to watch them all). E.T. never felt like it belonged in either group but rather somewhere in the middle. It’s one of those rare movies that can claim to have a shot at appealing to anyone, and actually have history and monstrous success to back that claim up.

My response to the movie has naturally changed through the years. It doesn’t mean the same thing to me now as it did when I was three. The last time I saw E.T. was late last year, and it never felt like a nostalgia trip, or as something that can only be enjoyed within the context of its decade. Timeless is not a word I’m terribly fond of using in any context, but I think we’re stuck with it in this case. It’s the easiest way to explain why this is still the movie it was in 1982. Some movies can both represent their era, and tell a story that doesn’t favor one decade over the other. E.T. can be as significant a viewing experience the first time around (and I do know people who haven’t seen it) as it is for someone like me who has seen it more than a couple of times. Not every single Spielberg movie has pulled this off, but the ones that have are going to be around a lot longer than any of us will be. That won’t make everyone happy, but it works for me.

In any other movie this wouldn’t end well for the lad.

The story is something anyone reading this should already know. I think part of E.T.’s enduring charm is that it’s not so much the story itself (In fact Spielberg has been accused in the past of lifting much of E.T. from an unpublished screenplay called The Alien), but in the way it’s told. Spielberg knows how to open a movie, and his best films are the ones that are beautifully, perfectly paced across their running time. E.T. has a time of almost two hours, and not one second of that slows down the forward moment that is established within seconds of the opening. We’re almost immediately introduced to everyone, and everything we’re going to need to decide if we’re going to stick around. I still think the movie has some of the best child actors I’ve ever seen. Henry Thomas delivers a simple, effective performance over the course of his developing friendship with the stranded alien. He’s not precocious, smug or so sickeningly cute hat he rots the movie from the inside-out. As Elliot his friendship with E.T. is what the film lives and dies on above all else. Through Thomas it’s doing a pretty good job of continuing to live. The entire cast provides the human element that connects with the special effects and science fiction story of an alien getting stuck on earth and trying to find his way home. It remains an example that a Hollywood film can also have some genuine personality behind it.

Cynicism comes easily to me at this point in my life. I wish it didn’t. That kind of thing is cute (to you) when you’re sixteen, but it’s a little more disheartening when you’re closing in on thirty. E.T. is one of the few things that have endured that feeling. I can still be pulled in by the beginning, in which E.T. barely escapes the faceless, cold U.S Government. I still laugh when the physic connection between E.T. and Elliot is revealed when both E.T. gets him drunk while Elliot is at school dissecting a frog. I remain capable of greeting the U.S. Government finally tracking E.T. with dread.

I still love the hell out of the escape sequence that brings us to one of the most satisfying conclusions to a movie I can think of. John Williams’ legendary score enhances it so beautifully that I can’t imagine any of the film without it.

Great movies under the Children and Family banner are still being made. I’ve catch them here and there, and I’d even go so far as to say that the best ones are proving how well-written, and well-acted these films can be. That’s good, but for me E.T. remains an entity separate from anything else in its intended genre. I’d measure it against anything coming out today. I might enjoy it, but it doesn’t have the slightest chance, of having the impact on me that E.T. had when I saw it for the first time. I think one of the reasons why I can still watch it is because I like to remember that I used to be a much more hopeful person. There was plenty of room for a movie like E.T. to grab me. I miss that.