Film Review: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

 

 

A one-armed man arrives at a town with a population around twenty to find that he is not welcome.  In fact, it is not the man whom the town is opposed to but rather what the man is looking for.  The longer he stays, the more danger he is in.  As he continues his forbidden search, the out-of-towner uncovers a crime that has been kept secret by the townspeople for four years.  Now he must escape the isolated community before he is killed.

This is the story which John Sturges paints on a colorful Cinemascope canvas.  Its sets are detailed and realistic and its characters are equally complex and memorable.  The script brings into play some wonderful dialogue as well as some intriguing moments of suspense.

Sturges, primarily a director of Westerns, made Bad Day at Black Rock well enough for today’s audiences to still find it enjoyable. Spencer Tracy heads up a good cast as the crippled stranger, appearing tough and determined but still generally friendly.  The film takes its time to tell its story, nevertheless, I would not watch it again just to view the unfolding of events.

What makes Black Rock so entertaining and captivating is the sharp conversations, the deep characterization, and the masterful cinematography.  The story may be nothing new to us, but few movies today make such good use of the sun’s light as this one.  The way those bright beams of light reflect off the barren plains surrounding the town not only makes this drama thriller attractive, but totally immersive and worth-while.

Rating: 4/5

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Film Review: Amadeus (1984)

More any other genre, classical music is best at expressing certain feelings.  For this reason, movies that use it can be especially captivating.  However, that is only part of the reason that I found Amadeus to be an astonishing film.  There are chilling undertones of jealousy and murder which make it both fascinating and thrilling.  Though many films have attempted to achieve this exact same feel, this is the first that has accomplished it so elegantly.

Most everyone has heard of Mozart.  He was a child prodigy and wrote heavenly music, but he died a young father and husband.  Mozart would never find that one of his colleagues, fellow composer Antonio Salieri, had once planned to murder him out of envy.  Salieri, vividly portrayed by F. Murray Abraham, could not bear the extreme jealousy that filled him when he discovered Mozart’s talents.  But Salieri was determined to be glorified as a great composer. So he convinced Mozart to compose a Requiem that he could steal and call his own after murdering him.  The theme of Amadeus is not the death of Mozart but instead what drove Salieri to murder. It was too much for him, knowing that he was completely incapable of what Mozart did so effortlessly.

Mozart’s work is the perfect soundtrack for this biographical film which also features a great group of performances, a superb script, and exquisite sets and costumes.  Amadeus is a film that stands high above all other period dramas, it is beautiful, unforgettable, and one of the few movies that can honestly be called a timeless masterpiece.  Not even in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has director Milos Forman gotten so close to perfection.

Rating: 5/5

Film Review: 127 Hours (2010)

 

James Franco stars in one of 2010’s best movies as Aron Ralston, a free-spirited adventurer who treks into the canyons of Utah.  But on the way, he falls into a rocky crevice in which a heavy boulder pins down his arm.  In this expedition, he has come alone and foolishly, he did not tell anyone where he was headed.

After days of struggling, he is on the brink of death; and he will do anything to stay alive.  There is one notorious scene in which Aron is forced to do the unthinkable, and this has been the cause for many to avoid the movie altogether.  But there is much more to 127 Hours than meets the eye.

Ralston brought along his video camera for the ride.  While documenting his five days of captivity, he begins to reflect on what he should have done differently.  He regrets choosing not to return his mom’s calls.  He recalls his love for his girlfriend.  He cannot believe how his entire life has been doomed to end this way from the very beginning.

Franco, nominated for an Oscar,  is superbly convincing and emotionally engaging, and he is well-directed by Danny Boyle.  The film is also filled with a wonderful soundtrack that can both inspire and energize.  The cinematography and editing could indeed be the best part, it emphasizes bright color and occasionally shows three pictures at once.  127 Hours is one of my top five movies to come out of 2010 because it is well-executed, inspirational, and entertaining.

Rating: 4.5/5

Did you enjoy this as much I did?  Please comment and let me know…

Film Review: Another Year (2010)

Mike Leigh’s Another Year contains one of the best performances of 2010.  The actresses’ name is Lesley Manville and she portrays a single, middle-aged woman saddened by her loneliness and aging beauty.  Manville’s work helps create the perfect supporting character for a film full of different kinds of people.

The primary focus of Leigh’s character study is a long-married couple trying to spread the happiness in their life to those around them.  This includes both friends and relatives that are going through all sorts of troubles.  As the film continues, it becomes clearer that there is not a specific story being told.  Instead, we are guided, season by season, through an entire year in the life of the couple.

But for covering a whole year’s time, Another Year never moves urgently.  It is patient and relaxed, fueled by an excellent group of performances and a very good script.  What separates the film from every other drama is that it uses characters that could be people that we know, and events that have probably happened to us.  This helps ensure that we get to know those on the screen quickly.  After all, most of the characters are ones we can relate to.

As time goes by, we are not learning about them, but rather about what is happening to them.  This makes Another Year an easy film to connect to.  It is rich, realistic, slow-paced, but worth-while.  When there isn’t an intriguing conversation occurring (and there usually is), one can always soak up the emotions of the marvelous cast.

Rating: 4.5/5

Film Review: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

Director Jonathan Liebesman has created a mix of The Hurt Locker and District 9 that isn’t half as good as either one.  The script could have been written by an ambitious schoolboy and seems more suiting to be a short film, much less a two-and-a-quarter hour one.  The action and rare moments of suspense are the only things that kept me in the theater.

Filmed in a sort of documentary manner, earth is victim to an alien invasion.  One of the cities that are being attacked during this global war is Los Angeles.  This world-famous city, as you might have guessed, is where the story takes place (though filmed in Baton Rouge).

Throughout the movie, we follow a platoon of U.S. Marines who are sent on a mission to save a group of civilians taking refuge in a police station.  The cast is led by Aaron Eckhart, who isn’t as easy to take seriously as intended due to a bit of laughable dialogue.

The hand-held camera work is hard to adjust to due to the editing, which makes it impossible to observe anything for more than three seconds.  The camera also abuses the ability to zoom, trying to create a realistic feel, but viewers are forced to get uncomfortably close to the off-setting characters.

I didn’t start to dislike Battle: Los Angeles until the last half of the movie, and simply because it seemed to last to eternity.  Though the action is an intense, electrifying ride, it cannot redeem the whole film.  There are just too many obvious flaws to discuss.

Rating: 2/5