WALL-E (2008)

Synopsis: In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0910970/

Who chose it: Both of us

Why we chose it:

Leah: I love Pixar movies- and this was one of the few I hadn’t seen.

Brent: I definitely picked it because it was time that I got around to seeing this. Probably past time, honestly.

Brent’s Review:

“WALL-E” is a cleaning robot left behind on Earth to clean up the obscene amount of garbage that has ravaged Earth. While cleaning, WALL-E finds a small plant, which is the first sign of life since humans left Earth centuries ago. After an exploration robot, EVE, comes to Earth – just long enough to WALL-E to fall madly in love with her, mind you – the plot is thrust in motion as she takes the plant back to the ship that humans have called home after Earth in order to show this new sign of life.

The ship’s name is the Axiom and it is in this middle act that “WALL-E” departs so markedly from most Pixar films that come before (and after). Unlike the happy-go-lucky Pixar titans (“Toy Story”, “Incredibles”, “Monsters Inc.”), “WALL-E” shows a vision of the future that is an indictment of American consumerism. The Axiom is a space resort where humans have so accustomed themselves to utilizing their electric hoverchairs that every human is morbidly obese and physically unable to walk. They eat their foods in liquid form, served exclusively in supersized fast food cups. In one scene, WALL-E accidentally bumps a human and disables the virtual tablet display that distracted her from seeing the little robot. Her response? “I didn’t know we had a pool!”

This satire is, of course, merely the backdrop for an adorable love story. WALL-E’s time alone on Earth has given him ample opportunities to learn the concept of love from artifacts left behind by humans. One such artifact is a film reel from “Hello, Dolly” in which WALL-E observes dancing and the significance of holding hands, two tropes revisited time and again throughout the film. I simply cannot put it another way: the romance between WALL-E and EVE is one of the cutest of any film I can think of (even more than Carl and Ellie from “Up”, my favorite Pixar film).

“WALL-E” is also adventurous for an animated film. The film’s first sequence – running over ten minutes – takes place entirely without dialogue. We are introduced to the characters and this world primarily through their actions, a technique rarely used in films aimed at children. The film’s director – Andrew Stanton – publicly stated that Charlie Chaplin’s films were a large influence on “WALL-E”, which is obvious both in technique and tone.

My favorite scene is easily the beautiful “space dance” sequence between WALL-E and EVE. It’s easily a top 5 Pixar scene for me and, I think, a fitting analogy for the film itself. On its surface, it’s a love story. But if you dig deeper, you will find biting social commentary. Watching both play out beautifully is something of an impressive dance.

As an aside, the Academy expanded the number of films that could be nominated for Best Picture from 5 to 10 in 2009, just a year after both “WALL-E” and “The Dark Knight” received serious Best Picture buzz, but failed to garner nominations. Something to ponder…

Leah’s Review:

There are two factors that (in my opinion) contribute to a well-made children’s movie. The first is how well it stands up to the test of time. Not only should the film still resonate and be enjoyable five, ten, twenty or more years down the road for generations of children– but for adults as well. The second factor is the movie’s intelligence. It is my belief that children don’t need a movie full of cheap jokes and bathroom humor to be entertained. Children are quite capable of watching a smart and engaging film and actually getting something out of it.

Like most Pixar films, “WALL-E” contains both of these qualities. Pixar has a knack for making films which (for the most part) appeal to those of a young age, but are smart and accessible enough for any age group. “WALL-E” has cute characters, an interesting story and enough adventure to make it an engaging watch. But Pixar doesn’t feel the need to dumb it down like other family films- I think this is one of the reasons why the studio has been so successful.

“WALL-E” is unique in the fact that it has little dialogue. Its main characters, WALL-E and EVE (who are robots) don’t say much beyond a few words and beeps. The first sequence of the film has almost no spoken lines- but somehow, it is able to capture and keep its audience’s attention with the combination of a well-crafted soundtrack and WALL-E’s hilariously adorable antics.

Some have criticized “WALL-E” for being too preachy when it comes to its overt messages about the reliance on technology and its potential hazards on the environment as well as the human race. I personally think Pixar did a great job of not hitting the audience over the head with this message, but rather presenting it in a way to get the viewer thinking (something 2012’s “The Lorax”, failed to do) and instilling the idea of caring for ourselves, others, and the planet we live on.

Pixar is known for its extremely heartfelt stories- the kind that make you ugly cry (think “Up”, “Inside Out”, “Toy Story 3”). I wasn’t expecting a movie about robots (even cute robots) to make me get so emotional. But, once again, this is something that that “WALL-E” is able to do brilliantly. Whether it’s the unrequited love and unspoken words between WALL-E and EVE or the fact that WALL-E has a soft spot for musical numbers and Rubik’s cubes- these are the things that make the characters in “WALL-E” resonate with us even though we are human and they are not.

“WALL-E” is a wonderful family film that will make you laugh, make you cry, and everything in between. What it truly captures is the indescribable, unspoken enchantment of love and the beauty we can find all around us if we just look close enough.

Up next: We’ll be watching the movie of all movies. A film that has been called the best of all time… “Citizen Kane”.

Peace out, kids.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Synopsis: The story of T.E. Lawrence, the English officer who successfully united and led the diverse, often warring, Arab tribes during World War I in order to fight the Turks.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056172/

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it: Probably because its one of those movies you’re supposed to see before you die. And because I love beautiful cinematography.

Leah’s Review:

There are some films that need to be seen. I hate being that person who says that you need to watch a movie because it’s so iconic- but “Lawrence of Arabia” really is something that everyone should watch and experience at least once in their life.

Does “Lawrence of Arabia” appeal to the modern movie-goer? Yes and no. I think much of the film goes unappreciated by many who would see it today. For an adventure-genre film, it isn’t action-packed. Sometimes there’s little to no dialogue. It’s a nearly four-hour long epic, much of which goes by rather slowly. But the story isn’t really what’s important here- rather how the story is told is what’s important.

For someone who appreciates film as an art and not concerned solely with content- “Lawrence of Arabia” is a cinematic treat. The story is an epic and is meant to be experienced rather than watched. Much of the grandeur of this film is lost solely because of the modern format we’re forced use. Much like last week’s “Dunkirk”, the movie was shot in 70mm and this really is the only way one can fully view and appreciate it. I can only imagine how much more epic the vast desert scenery would have looked on the big screen as it was meant to be seen.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a sucker for a movie with good cinematography- and “Lawrence of Arabia” is really the cream of the crop when it comes to cinematography. Nearly every shot shows the stunning and expansive landscape of the dessert- fully immersing the viewer into that environment. And I can’t not mention the iconic and brilliant shot of Omar Sharif’s entrance through the desert mirage or my personal favorite transition between Lawrence blowing out a match to a desert sunrise landscape shot.

The cinematography is beautifully complimented by Maurice Jarre’s masterful score- giving majesty and a sense of wonder to each scene. I would go so far as to say that the movie wouldn’t be nearly as epic if not for its soundtrack (which, no surprise, won an Oscar for best score).

I must also mention the flawless performances of stars, Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and Alec Guinness (Guinness was an extremely strange choice given his English nationality- but still does the character justice). Previously, I had only seen O’Toole in two of his lesser films (and yes, one of those was Pixar’s “Ratatouille”), but was completely captivated by his performance as T.E. Lawrence. Omar Sharif has always been one of those magical actor names that I knew but had never actually seen on screen. His portrayal of the complex Sherif Ali (whose character development is perhaps the most interesting) was one that I immensely enjoyed.

I don’t think think “Lawrence of Arabia” appeals to everyone- but I do think it is a movie that had a huge impact on film-making and is a must-see for any film-aficionado. Or if you just really like camels.

Brent’s Review:

“Lawrence of Arabia” is a biopic of T.E. Lawrence, a young and peculiar British soldier who was successful in uniting Arab tribes to fight against the Turks during World War I. “Lawrence of Arabia” is an epic. It begins with an overture and features an intermission. The cast features eight actors who either won or were nominated for Oscars (including Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, who both were nominated for their performances in this film). The film runs just short of four hours in length. Viewers be warned: watching “Lawrence of Arabia” is an investment of more than just time.

The genius of “Lawrence” is lost on me today, watching the film now 55 years after its initial release. The film’s most impressive and beautiful feature is its cinematography. Landscapes are photographed so beautifully by Freddie Young that it seems the film is made of artwork that came to life. More than that, the cinematography plays heavily into the atmosphere of the film: characters don’t cut immediately into the frame (as Sergio Leone did in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” another film in a desolate landscape). Instead, characters begin as blips on the horizon. One character’s introduction is lengthy, nearing several minutes in length as his spec becomes a person who becomes a man with a rifle. The only signal of his impending arrival is the dust kicked up by his camel in the distance. The beauty of this type of cinematography loses a lot when exchanging a 70mm theater print for a digital format on a 32” HDTV.

The other aspect of the film that I missed by my contemporary eyes is the patient sense of storytelling. “Lawrence of Arabia” is a slow story by any standards, but watching it today makes it feel like the story crawls. It’s hard for me to enter into in an epic of this length when I’m used to nice, tightly-wound narratives that get you in and out in two hours. This film harkens to a time where watching a film wasn’t just entertainment, it was an event. David Lean never meant his epic to be watched on a home television on a Saturday afternoon. Can I even say I saw the film he wanted me to see?

But I can say that I’ve seen it – and I enjoyed parts of it. I appreciated parts of it, especially the screen presence every actor has, especially Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif. But for me, it felt less like watching a story I could get involved in and interact with and more like watching a historical document. Watching a film of this scope reminds me of family, some of whom have passed away, who would watch these sorts of films as children. I wanted to see “Lawrence of Arabia” so I could be part of that conversation. And, like the soldier near the film’s end who shakes Lawrence’s hand just to say that he’d done it, now I suppose I can

Next up: We’re going to dial the cute factor up to 11 and check out “Wall-E”, a Pixar film that we both missed when it was released… nearly a decade ago.

Peace out, kids.

Dunkirk (2017)

Synopsis: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5013056/

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Christopher Nolan wrote and directed it… and Tom Hardy is in it, so…

Brent’s Review:

Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is the most visceral war film I have seen since “Saving Private Ryan”.

“Dunkirk” recounts a week-long “battle” in which German forces pushed British and French soldiers to Dunkirk beach, which is so close to the cliffs of Dover that 12 ferry rides per day are held between the two locations in 2017. “You can almost see [home],” one of the captains says early in the film. Escape is the goal, but it isn’t simple: tanks block the way back into France, U-boats patrol the sea, and the German air force are blowing up any ships that they can. Time is running out.

The narrative in this film is constructed ingeniously. The story is told across three individual stories, each with a different location (land, sea, and air) and each with a differing time interval (the longest section is one week; the shortest is one hour). Much of the film’s suspense is generated by the ways in which these storylines interface with one another.

It seems clear to me that Hans Zimmer’s score will receive an Academy Award given that 90% of the suspense is derived from his endless crescendos, atmospheric soundscapes, and that ticking clock that twists the screws tighter with each passing click. Zimmer, whose foghorns in “Inception” were so famously copied for years after its release, has created yet another memorable score.

My gut tells me that Nolan will get his due with “Dunkirk”, by which I mean that he will receive his first Academy Award nomination for the category of Best Director (my brain, however, tells me he will not win). “Dunkirk” is certainly an early favorite for Best Picture accolades, along with sure nominations for cinematography, editing, and sound design.

One criticism I’ve heard of the film is that the characters are too static and that there isn’t enough development for each character to feel like a film worthy of such high praise. For me, this criticism misses the point: Nolan wasn’t trying to create a story with dynamic characters, he was trying to put you on the beach. He succeeded.

Leah and I had the great fortune of seeing this film in 70mm at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, OH (my new favorite theater). There were over 100 people watching the film with us, each of us having shelled out more than double the normal price of admission to see the film the way Nolan intended. The gunshots that ring out in the film’s first minutes were deafening. Everyone was instantly glued to the screen. I could feel people around me tensing up as Nolan crafted sequences so spellbinding that breathing sometimes took effort.

After being disappointed with “Interstellar”, I had some reservations about “Dunkirk”. My reservations melted away near the end of the first act when I realized Nolan had crafted something wholly different from his last outing. He was in control of this film from the word go.

See “Dunkirk”, in 70mm if you’re able.

Leah’s Review:

I’m not typically a fan of war-movies. And as I’ve previously mentioned, history is not something I find enjoyable- but I do love a good biopic. When I found out Christopher Nolan was directing a movie about World War II, I was intrigued. Nolan has made some amazing films that I’ve watched and enjoyed (the most recent Batman trilogy, “Inception”, and “The Prestige” to name a few). I was interested to see how Nolan would take a nonfictional event and put his spin on it.

First off, I must mention that we saw “Dunkirk” in 70mm. “Dunkirk” was shot in 70mm and was meant to be viewed in this format. There are only a handful of theatres in the country showing the film in 70mm, but we were able to find a screening of it at an amazing independent non-profit theatre in Columbus. I will say that this really enhanced the viewing experience. It gives the movie a sense of authenticity as well as volume- it’s a “big” story and deserves to be seen up close and personal.

There are many war movies that I’ve not seen (notably “Saving Private Ryan”), but I think “Dunkirk” is one of the most authentic depictions of war that has been put to film. Nolan doesn’t shy away from the gruesome, gut-wrenching, and intense aspects of the battle of Dunkirk. One aspect that made this film feel real was that, as an audience member, you’re essentially dropped into the thick of things. There’s a brief introduction that gives the viewer some context of what is happening, but otherwise- it’s a pretty jarring beginning (which really sets the tone for the rest of the film).

If I could choose one word to describe “Dunkirk”, it would be urgency. British and French troops have a limited amount of time to escape the beaches of Dunkirk- and not much protection to do so safely. There are three separate but connected storylines going on- and each has a force driving its characters to accomplish the task at hand. Staying alive is key. Combined with Hans Zimmer’s subtle, yet masterful score (featuring a ticking pocket watch throughout)- we’re kept on the edge of our seats for the majority of the film.

Nolan chose to cast mostly unknown actors for “Dunkirk” (with the exception of Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy). This really allows the viewer to focus on the performances themselves. The film doesn’t rely so much on dialogue as it does the action. Again, this makes “Dunkirk” a very authentic sort of experience- as a viewer, you feel like you are experiencing the battle with the characters.

I was very impressed with what Nolan was able to create in “Dunkirk”: A war movie that doesn’t feel overdone, characters you root and feel for even though their lines may be limited, an ending that is inspiring without feeling cheesy, and an authenticity that very few historical films can pull off. Even if you’re not a history buff, go see “Dunkirk”.

Up next: We’re visiting the desert with Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and Alec Guiness in “Lawrence of Arabia”. 

Peace out, kids.


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Synopsis: The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2278388/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it: I’ve always wanted to see a Wes Anderson film and this one featured nonstop hilarity, a colorful backdrop, and a handful of my favorite actors. Which, I guess, could be features of any Wes Anderson film- but I also recalled all of the Oscar buzz that this one received when it came out.

Leah’s Review:

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a story within a story. We are introduced to “The Author” of the story of the same name at the very beginning of the film- but the storyteller is ultimately Zero Moustafa, the once poor bellboy and the now owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel (who relays the story of how he came to own the hotel to “The Author”). The movie never wastes any time, and we are quickly thrown into the story of M. Gustave, the hotel’s most remarkable concierge. Gustave take Zero the bellboy under his wing, teaching him everything he knows. This relationship becomes important as Gustave gets involved in a situation involving his lover’s inheritance and her possessive, psychopathic family.

The pacing of “Grand Budapest” is what makes the film work so well. The plot advances so quickly that you’re never bored- but the exposition helps the viewer not to get completely lost. There’s a large cast of characters, but each one is so distinct and memorable that you never get hung up on who’s who. The fast pace of the movie combined with the quick and witty script makes for a delightful and entertaining viewing experience (the comedic timing often reminded me of that of the classic “Pink Panther” films). The story is quirky, heartfelt, often ridiculous, but never feels ham-fisted. It’s escapism at its best.

Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the film is its vibrant color schemes. There is a specific color palette for nearly every scene and, coupled with the movies’ numerous wide shots, this makes the watching experience more akin to viewing a great piece of artwork. Often, the palettes are composed of complementary colors (the most noticeable being the orange-ish backdrop of the hotel itself with the purple uniforms of the employees) which really make every shot stand out on its own.

The movie’s often absurd characters would not be able to come to life without the brilliant performers behind them. There’s a handful of actors that are broadly recognizable, even if they are only on the screen for a few scenes- who make sure that their characters are not forgotten. Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, and of course Bill Murray (who is a regular in Wes Anderson films) are all fantastic in their respective roles. Then-newcomer, Tony Revolori shines in his role as young Zero (with the talented F. Murray Abraham as his adult counterpart). And I can’t not mention Ralph Fiennes who I am now certain can play any character convincingly- from the heartless and ruthless Amon Goth in “Schindler’s List” to the hilarious and ridiculous M. Gustave.

I had high hopes for “Grand Budapest” when we made our list for the year- and I was not disappointed. It’s definitely one of my favorite films we’ve seen so far and I look forward to watching it again as well as the next Wes Anderson film on our list.

Brent’s Review:

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a wet sponge, by which I mean it is incredibly dense. I could wrap both hands around it, twist it again and again, and yet I believe I would not be able to fully wring out everything from this film.

I will confess that, including this, I’ve only seen two Wes Anderson films – the other being “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” which was a bit of a letdown for me. I didn’t have exceedingly high hopes for this film. It looked intriguing, but “maybe,” I thought. “Maybe Wes Anderson is a type of quirky that I just don’t get.”

Not so. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a fire hydrant. The costume design, score, and production design are all fantastic (all won Oscars in their respective categories). The acting is pitch perfect and well-cast, even if the cast really features Wes Anderson’s usual cast of regulars (Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Ed Norton, and many more). The plot, too, is even ridiculous: a famous concierge at the titular hotel inherits a priceless painting from a widow whose heart he won years after her husband’s passing. One catch: her children are psychopaths and want the painting for themselves. The concierge – the famed M. Gustave – steals the painting with the aid of his immigrant lobby boy, Zero Moustafa.

For me, the difference between “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Life Aquatic” is pacing. “Grand Budapest” is a flurry of jokes, some of which are hidden in the artwork in the background and others of which are hidden in a glance between characters. Some might call the comedy quirky; I would call it subtle.

The film begins at a breakneck pace as it introduces the primary plot device: a story over dinner between the older Zero Moustafa and a guest at the now-rundown Grand Budapest. The first chapter moves so swiftly that it might trample you if you’re not invested from frame one, but once you catch up you will find much to enjoy.

I will confess, however, that I found myself trying to convince myself of disappointment midway through the film. “This is a comedy, right?” I asked myself. “You should be laughing out loud a lot more than you are.” As soon as I became aware of this thought, I realized that I’d been grinning like an idiot for the better part of the last hour. “Grand Budapest” is whimsical – you’re not likely to bust a gut, but your cheeks will feel the burn.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” relies on a layered approach to both storytelling and comedy. Indeed, the drawn landscapes in the film are just as beautiful as the painting the protagonists steal. I am going to use a cop-out and suggest that my difficulty in finding the best words to describe this film relies on its own reliance on visuals to propel the story. I guess you’ll just have to see this movie to know what I’m talking about.

Up Next: We’ll be traveling to the theater to see Christopher Nolan’s newest film, “Dunkirk.”

Peace out, kids.

The Godfather (1972)

Synopsis: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068646/

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Leah hadn’t seen it and I think everyone should, if only to be part of the pop culture conversation.

Brent’s Review:

“The Godfather” is the first of a three-part crime saga recounting the Corleone family’s attempts to stay in power. We meet Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) on the day of his daughter’s wedding, agreeing to grant favors to anyone who asks, per a Sicilian custom. Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), his right-hand man, takes notes and helps keep things organized. His three sons – Santino (James Caan), Fredo (John Cazale), and Michael (Al Pacino) – stalk the grounds and generally enjoy themselves. It’s a day of celebration.

Happy times fade, but that isn’t surprising. What also isn’t surprising is that it’s a result of Vito Corleone saying no to someone he shouldn’t have said no to. After an assassination attempt, there is a power vacuum at the head of the Corleone family. The Godfather is a crime epic featuring more than twenty main characters and sets spanning the entire United States and Italy. But the scale of its setting and ensembles can easily distract from the true premise: The Godfather is an examination of the transition of power in a crime family from a well-respected patriarch to the reluctant, but prodigal, son, Michael.

A lot of good ink has been spilled talking about the acting and direction of this film. After all, the film had four Best Actor nominations (only Brando won), but instead of retreading that very well-worn path, I’m going to talk about two items I don’t often hear about “The Godfather”: the writing and the cinematography.

The film is co-written by Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola and it won an academy award for the strength of its writing. This film boasts a script so dense and complex that the fairly straightforward tale we see ended up on the screen is nothing short of miraculous. Time and again, we find the most significant details to be small, seemingly innocuous. Consider: after Michael and a family friend narrowly dodge a confrontation with hitmen, Michael has to help the other man light his cigarette because the other man’s hands are shaking too violently to use his lighter. Michael’s aren’t shaking, which surprises him. These small actions are woven throughout the script and shrinks the scale of the film to a very basic level.

The cinematography is very underrated. Consider the opening shot in which the shadows cast upon the face of a disrespectful man make him look like a rodent, only a gleam of his eyes and front teeth showing. Or in another scene (my favorite shot in the entire film), Vito Corleone mourns the loss of one of his sons, only his upper torso dimly lit against a pitch-black background. It’s stunning.

Hollywood legend Howard Hawks once said that a good movie has three good scenes and no bad ones. “The Godfather” has half a dozen perfect scenes, a few more that are great, and the rest are good. That pretty much sums it up. It’s not my favorite of all time, but it’s a phenomenal film. See this movie.

Leah’s Review:

So we’ve come to it at last. “The Godfather”. Almost universally hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. I have to admit, I felt a lot of pressure watching this movie. Pressure to love it. Pressure to come to the same conclusion that it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s “The Godfather”.

I didn’t dislike “The Godfather.” But I didn’t quite love it either. Don’t get me wrong- it’s an expertly-made film in every way. From the script, to the cinematography, and the acting- it feels like an authentic gangster film. It’s gritty, gruesome, and difficult to watch at times. It never feels flashy. The characters aren’t presented as the cool gangsters that the audience wants to emulate. We watch what occurs in the Corleone’s world- but we don’t really want to be a part of it. It’s exciting, to be sure. But a little too dangerous for our liking. We’ll stay safe on our couch, thank you very much.

I thought the acting was spot on. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall (amongst others) completely disappear into their respective roles. Keeping their performances from distracting us from what is going on in the story- and instead giving life to the plot and making the Corleone family a believable one. I was really impressed by the transformation of Pacino’s Michael Corleone from a respectable, honest young man into a cold, ruthless, and manipulative leader of an operation he never wanted to be a part of in the first place (the film does a good job of showing how the events that occur in the story influence Michael in the direction).

I see myself watching “The Godfather” again in the future. Not because I really liked it, but because I felt like there was so much that I missed. A large cast of characters (with names I couldn’t keep straight and thick accents I couldn’t always understand), an often dense plot including many intricacies of the mafia that were more assumed than explained certainly didn’t help. I also think that because I was expecting something more flashy, more ”glamorous” if you will (think “Goodfellas” or “Pulp Fiction”)- it was harder to keep up with this more subtle (and again, more accurate) representation of gangster life. I think keeping this in mind for my second viewing will make it a more enjoyable experience and provide me with a greater appreciation for this masterfully-made film.

Up Next: We’ll be on holiday at “The Grand Budapest Hotel”.

Peace out, kids.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Synopsis: A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060196/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: It had been a long while since I saw this film — probably six or seven years. Let’s just say I have a greater appreciation for film-making and storytelling methods now… I liked it then, but I thought it was sloooowwww. I wanted to see if I thought the same thing this time (spoilers: I didn’t).

Brent’s Review:

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” takes place in barren wastelands – even the scenes taking place in towns or buildings last only a few moments before cannonballs blast the walls in. Set during the backdrop of the U.S. Civil War, the third film of the “Dollars” trilogy follows three men – Blondie (The Good), Angel Eyes (The Bad), and Tuco (The Ugly) – as they each seek to obtain $200,000 in gold coins buried in a cemetery.

The film’s director, Sergio Leone, has an eye for framing and cinematography. The actors’ cragged faces are examined in close-ups, detailing every feature of their sun-worn skin. Characters enter abruptly from just beyond the frame, cutting long shots into close-ups. Deep Focus is used throughout, adding depth to every shot.

We’re just getting started. Leone is a master of tension. In one scene, three bandits creep upstairs to get the drop on a character while he cleans his gun, the sound of marching soldiers covering the sounds of their spurs. Ignorant of his danger, he continues cleaning. The scene goes on for minutes, wide shots turning into close-ups and the pace of the cuts ramps up to the turn: the march stops and a spur chimes. Now the race is on to get the upper hand.

This is but one of many suspenseful sequences in the film, which reminded me of Hitchcock’s distinction between suspense and surprise. To paraphrase: Suppose we’re having a chat and there is a bomb under the table. At a certain point, the bomb explodes. You’re surprised. But suppose now that we tell the audience that there’s a bomb under the table and it’s going to go off at a certain time, but we still continue to chat. That’s suspense.

Suspense falls flat, however, without meaningful characters. Clint Eastwood criticized the film, saying Tuco’s character is the only one fleshed out in the story. He’s right, but that’s missing the boat. Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Tuco aren’t just men, they are archetypes. They stand like titans in this wasteland. The film’s climax features a three-man duel. We know that only one of the men can win, but the sequence only works if we connect with the characters.

I cannot end this review without mentioning the perfection of Ennio Morricone’s score, which words cannot do justice. Without its perfection, however, entire sequences of the film simply would not work, including a lengthy sequence where a character runs in circles through a cemetery. And I want to give a special note about Eli Wallach’s turn as Tuco, which is superb.

Watching this film in 2017 calls to mind the filmography of Quentin Tarantino, whose more recent works mimic Leone’s style. It also calls to mind Eastwood’s film “Unforgiven”, in which he pens his love letter to the genre. The “Dollars” trilogy revived the Western genre, if only for a short time. That this film is so influential is appropriate – its legacy stands tall like a titan in an all-but-barren wasteland.

Leah’s Review:

I have a confession to make: I hate Westerns. I find them to be boring and slow and the subject matter isn’t something that I can connect to. On the rare occasion that I catch one on TV, my eyes usually glaze over and I immediately change the channel. However, I knew I needed to see “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” purely because it’s such a classic, iconic film.

Despite my hesitations, I genuinely enjoyed Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. Sure- the run-time was probably 45 minutes more than it needed to be and there are definitely some parts that drag. But overall, the pacing works well- slowly building the tension between the three lead characters until their final, iconic standoff. The soundtrack and classic main theme couldn’t fit the feel of this film better (why did it take until 2016 for Ennio Morricone to win an Oscar for his score???). And the cinematography is downright gorgeous.

Another confession: This was my first Clint Eastwood watching-experience (This is probably due to the fact that he’s in so many Westerns). I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed his performance. I’ve always pegged Eastwood for playing the grumpy/crotchety, jerkish character (And maybe that’s just because of how he seems in real life). But I absolutely loved his role as Blondie- the charismatic, smart, and cunning gunslinger. He is truly a hero (though often quite dastardly) that you want to root for. And that poncho. I mean, come on.

A final embarrassing confession: The only movie I had ever seen Eli Wallach in was 2006’s “The Holiday” (which is by no means a great film, but is one of those guilty-pleasure-romantic-comedies for me). As I soon discovered, Wallach appeared in countless films (both Westerns and other genres) from the late 1940’s until his recent death in 2014. And it’s no surprise. Wallach’s performance as Tuco is flawless. Eastwood may have been the star of this film, but Wallach definitely has the most dialogue by a long-shot. A method actor, Wallach did most of his own stunts and somehow manages to make the corrupt and deceitful outlaw one of the most like-able characters. If I got anything out of this film- it’s a resolution to watch more of Wallach’s films.

Side note: After watching “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, I definitely felt like I better understood the filmmaking of modern director Quentin Tarantino. A favorite film of Tarantino’s, it inspired and influenced several of his own movies including “Reservoir Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction” and (very obviously) “Django Unchained”. The pacing, the style, and even some of the camera shots feel like they’re straight out of a Tarantino film. The theme of glorifying criminals is also a nod to Leone.

I was very happy to be proven wrong about Westerns. Perhaps they’re not quite as bad as I thought they were. Or maybe they’re just not as good as “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

Up Next: We’re getting a chance to see “The Godfather”, which some say is the best film of all time. Hard to refuse an offer to see that, am I right? 

Peace out, kids.

Brick (2005)

Synopsis: A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0393109/

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: “Brick” is one of those movies in the late 2000s that caught my eye, but I have no discernible reason to say *why* I wanted to watch it outside of it being a supposed crime thriller. Truthfully, I can’t even remember watching the trailer. Years later, knowing that Rian Johnson wrote and directed it was all I needed to know to land it on my list.

Brent’s Review:

“Brick” is written and directed by Rian Johnson, of “Looper” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” fame. This film has a pretty standard setup: teen loner, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), looks into the mysterious appearance of his ex-girlfriend. Where the film is unique, however, is that it exhumes the corpse of film noir, a genre firmly in the rearview mirror of the film industry today, and throws every trope in the genre at the viewer with confidence. In the few moments that the film slows down, I found myself reflecting on an interview with Quentin Tarantino I saw a few years ago in which he describes his experience writing “Pulp Fiction” as having the confidence to tell a really simple story.

The mission of “Brick” is massive: use film noir in a high school setting and make it convincing. Save for a few solid laughs, the film is very self-serious – it could even be a comedy if not for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s strong performance.

Yet, the strength of “Brick” is also its weakness: the choice of setting sometimes requires more suspension of disbelief than I wanted to give. The movie insists on realism – indeed, the violence is visceral. On the other hand, the film is about teenagers in high school – and it doesn’t shy away from its setting, including inquiries about “who’s eating lunch [with whom]” and the inadvertently hilarious line, “I don’t want you to come kicking in my homeroom door because of something I didn’t do.”

Johnson does an excellent job of crafting a film that would never have been made if it didn’t have this “fresh” angle – indeed, it took him six years to fund this one on a budget of less than half a million dollars – but ultimately, he is backed into a corner. His solution is to try to meet the challenge head-on and occasionally come up for air, winking at the audience along the way. In one brief scene, Brendan interacts with The Pin’s mother, which feels like it was transplanted from a teen comedy. Brendan slips back into his tough-guy facade after she excuses herself.

If you find yourself distracted by the setting, the film’s breakneck pace doesn’t let you be distracted for long. Johnson’s command of this material is outstanding. As excited as I am to see his work on “The Last Jedi,” I am even more excited to see the solo projects he will helm in the future. Overall, I was impressed by his work on such a small budget. Make no mistake: the film isn’t perfect. There are some jerky camera movements that betray his trademark crispness and some out-of-focus shots that a more experienced Johnson probably would’ve cleaned up. But the film is consistently beautiful to look at and, overall, the camera movements are very fun to watch (his whip-pans and close-ups are especially noteworthy).

I really wanted to love “Brick”, but I’ll settle for really liking it a lot. It’s definitely worth a viewing – maybe even a few.

Leah’s Review:

My main reason for wanting to watch “Brick” was because of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Levitt is a fantastic actor who has been in a variety of genres including drama, comedy, and action. I’ve never seen him give a bad performance and, in fact, he usually blows me away with his abilities to adapt to very different characters. I also have a tendency of enjoying movies that take place in high school settings as well as murder-mystery stories, so “Brick” was a film that I was looking forward to seeing.

“Brick” is a very interesting blend of film. What you need to know up front (and what I didn’t catch from until about halfway through) is that it is a film noir movie. The interesting part is that its setting is a modern-day high school. “Brick” asks its audience to suspend their belief that this combination should be a natural one and also assumes we will catch on to any subtle attributes common of the film noir genre. On top of that, the fast-paced and often frenzied-feeling story makes it nearly impossible to keep up with what is happening in this unfamiliar environment. Nevertheless, once you’ve gotten your bearings, the film is both engaging and engrossing.

After watching “Casino” last week (another crime movie made with a larger budget and more established movie-makers/actors), I was really impressed with how “Brick” was able to make itself feel like a really authentic film noir movie. Sure, modern-day high schoolers aren’t nearly this polished or cool. Underground teenage heroin rings, though some surely exist, aren’t nearly this well-managed. But somehow, it all works in a very believable way. On a side note, I really liked the fact that the director chose to have the characters use pay phones as their form of communication instead of cell phones to add complication to the plot and a more film noir feel.

“Brick” is a dark movie. It deals with some heavy subject matter and thrusts teenagers into a very adult world. There were times I was reminded of watching “Chinatown” or “L.A. Confidential”- which (like “Brick”) both feature investigation of corrupted murders. “Brick” features some of that same brutal violence. Brent disagreed with me about the movie being violent- but maybe it stood out more to me because the ones dealing with the danger and corruption were not cold-hearted gangsters or experienced detectives- but rather high school kids. And, again- I think that’s what makes this film so brilliant. The effortlessness in which the world of film noir and high school drama are so perfectly melded together is both innovative and entertaining to watch on screen.

Up Next: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. The mother of all spaghetti westerns. 

Peace out, kids.