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

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Film Review: There Will Be Blood (2007)

I see the worst in people.  I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need.  I’ve built my hatreds up over the years, little by little…”

These are the words of Daniel Plainview.  He arrived at the small California community of Little Boston in 1907 in search of somewhere to drill for oil.  Accompanying him is his son, H.W., whom he keeps by his side constantly.  Each day, he brings H.W. along to show him the ways of his trade.  Not only is he a slick businessman, but he is also an ambitious one, and everything seems to be going right for him until disaster strikes during drilling one day.  This event is the breaking point for Plainview, who then finds it near impossible to keep his temper concealed.  It is only then that we see the man as he really is.

In a vivid Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Day-Lewis embodies the character of Plainview.  On the opposite side is Paul Dano depicting the foolish pastor who the oil man claims as his enemy.  Both are great performances, but they are not all that captivates those who enter into this film.  The expansive desert setting, the chilling musical score, and the wonderful direction evoke just the right feelings from the audience.  Even though it can be received as entertainment, it is also a great work of art.  If it had not been pitted against the Coen’s No Country for Old Men in 2007’s Best Picture race, there is no doubt in my mind that it could have nabbed the award.

Even without a statuette, There Will Be Blood is an instant classic.  Most filmmakers might have been tempted to make a conventional Hollywood drama or action thriller when given the source material of Upton Sinclair’s Oil!.  I am certainly glad that director Anderson made it the way he did.  His atmospheric epic seems to have taken some lessons in characterization from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s dark, grimy The Wages of Fear.  When considering this, it is no wonder I enjoyed it so much.

Rating: 5/5

Criterion Film Review: Modern Times (1936)

Prior to promoting his classic film, City Lights, during 1931 and 1932, Charles Chaplin arrived back in America with intentions of implanting important social and political themes into his next feature. He long contemplated the subject of this new picture and eventually chose to focus on the rise of the machine. Watching this film today, one can clearly see that Chaplin was against these large machines that were beginning to be used in factories, and he demonstrates his point by making his own Little Tramp one of the many men to be replaced by such machinery. Joining him, is actress Paulette Goddard playing a memorable companion to the Tramp, while also beginning both a professional and personal relationship with Chaplin that eventually ended in divorce after bad experiences together on the set of The Great Dictator (1940).

Modern Times is such a delight, especially when considered among the many unfunny comedies that Hollywood produces today. Not only are we entertained by the appearance, antics, and actions of Chaplin’s Tramp, we are also captivated by a heart-warming romance. This little film, running under an hour and a half, contains so many scenes that are incredibly easy to recall that it makes it near impossible to not love it. In the beginning, Chaplin performs a hilarious string of gags within a factory set made up of giant gears, levers, and assembly lines. As we make our way further into the story which he has written, we find ourselves immersed in something stunning. The genius of Chaplin shines through his masterful work here. His Tramp is funny, innocent, likable, and goofy, making for the ideal protagonist of such a simple plot. That is what made the star into a legend. In fact, so popular is the image of the Tramp, that many people believe that the mustache, bowler hat, and cane were all part of Chaplin’s regular everyday attire.

For those of us who have seen his masterpieces, laughed at his gags, and been moved by his stories, Chaplin is more than the little man with the funny walk. He is the father of cinematic comedy and the face of all silent films. And yet there is a question that I have attempted to answer on a number of occasions: Is Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton the greater silent comedian? Before watching Modern Times, I probably would have told you that Keaton was my favorite. After watching Modern Times, I can say that I have no earthly idea. The pleasant smile of Chaplin is certainly more inviting when compared to the stone-cold, determined countenance of Keaton, yet Buster’s films are every bit as funny and we do actually end up caring about him. This question may have to be solved at a later date, but rather, the purpose of this review was to ensure any skeptical reader that Charlie Chaplin should not be written off by modern audiences just because he made silent films. Most all his movies are as good as this one, and a few might actually be better. I would encourage anyone reading this to at least give him a try. Watch Modern Times and see if it is not as good as I have said it is.

Rating: 5/5

Criterion Review:

The Criterion Collection gathers great films, whether foreign silent gems or forgotten modern masterpieces, and restores them to high quality sound and visuals. They distribute them on DVDs, which most always have an awesome cover design, and include behind the scenes featurettes, interviews, commentary, and booklets containing essays by film critics and historians. These can be hard to find and especially for a good price, but I luckily found my copy of Modern Times during a sale at a Barnes and Nobles. After watching the film and all the bonus features (and reading the essays), I can honestly say that the purchase would have been worth it at the regular price. The restored print is incredible, in fact, I giggled with delight at the sight of the first shot. The few words that are said (or sung) are clear, and the additional footage is fascinating. Also, there is a short film starring Chaplin which showcases his rollerskating abilities, a silent movie documenting a journalist’s yacht vacation with Chaplin, and many other various joys. For anyone who loves Modern Times, Charles Chaplin, or just film itself, this particular two-disc collection is a must.

Film Review: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

The power of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s riveting masterpiece doesn’t come from beautiful scenery or a sweeping score.  Instead, The Passion of Joan of Arc is nothing but the bare bones of a historical epic.  It is interesting to take note of the smooth, barren walls and ceilings in which the indoor scenes are filmed.  The costumes as well, though authentic, are equally boring to look at, establishing the film as the complete, polar opposite of the visual delight, Gone With the Wind.  Even without intricate wallpaper designs and fancy props, it is captured in innovative close-ups that show more detailed faces and expressions than one is ever likely to see again.

All of the elements in Dreyer’s film add up to exactly what he set out to make: a documentation of an essential event in the history of France.  Anything that should distract from its purpose (movie stars, special effects, extravagant sets, etc.) was not included.  Dreyer’s refusal to dress up his story not only makes The Passion stand out, it elevates it to the status of an all time great.  Anyone who knows anything about silent films should be familiar with the face of Maria Falconetti.  Her incredible performance as Joan of Arc, a Frenchwoman executed for claiming to be called by God to save France, is one of the most powerful ever put to film.  When considering how silent films had to resort to images alone to express emotion, the success of such a plain film as Joan of Arc may seem like a mystery… until one looks into the eyes of Maria Falconetti and finds all the reasons why.

Rating: 5/5