Salvador

Salvador PosterHey take some pictures, fresh bodies up there.

Oliver Stone has become a byword for highly charged politics, particularly left-wing, with a flexible relationship with accuracy.  Many–dare I say “most”–find this lack of candor to be a fatal flaw.  “Why,” say the critics, “bother making films about real people and real situations when you aren’t going to represent them honestly?”  Surely Stone believes that he is telling the truth, or (at least) “a truth”, but perhaps rigid adherence to the almanac is not important.  Salvador (1986), written with and about journalist Rick Boyle and his experiences in El Salvador, is perhaps the best example of a film that is more important as a sketch than it is a recreation of historical events.  It’s a potent cautionary tale when seen in the light of current events where American military support is provided to new groups and some of the same old, nasty faces.  Apart from anything else, it is probably Stone’s best political film.

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The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities PosterOh my God, natives!

The more movies I watch, the more often I seem to find myself on the other side of critical opinion.  Perhaps that’s inevitable for all movie watchers.  As the sample size grows, the amount of overrated films will reach an equilibrium with the amount of underrated films.  Whether one’s individuality increases with one’s disagreement with consensus or not is as hard to justify as it is to assess.  Time flatters plot and writing, so I suspect The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) will only rise in the estimation of audiences.  The critics, however, have spoken and they didn’t say very nice things.  “What a mess” says the Philadelphia Inquirer.  That was not my experience.  The Bonfire of the Vanities struck me as a sound satire about New York in the 1980s, taking aim at all institutions and calling them vultures.  Little has changed.

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The Shadow

The Shadow PosterHow will you know where I am?

Like no other film I can readily recall, The Shadow (1994) was as equally entertaining to me as a child on a childish level as it is for me as an adult on an adult level.  This is not unfamiliar.  Many child-oriented films, dole out small euphemistic zingers like scraps to very bored parents.  However, The Shadow is two completely different films to the child and the adult.  The tone you observe as a child is one of adventure and thrills, while the adult sees satire and allusions.

Take an example.  In the first scene, the Shadow (Alec Baldwin) pulls out his two pistols and takes aim at a defenseless man (Sab Shimono) with concrete shoes.  The child knows that the Shadow is going to shoot away the concrete, but the adult, more learned in the language of cinema, sees the upward angle and sadistic look in the Shadow’s eyes and thinks “This guy is going to kill him.”  Then there is the copious amounts of overt sexual dialogue which was completely lost on me as a child.  The obscenely leering Tim Curry and cheeky repartee with Penelope Ann Miller.  It makes me wonder how I rationalized that dialogue at the time.  I must have looked right past it and took in what, to my present mind, is rather light adventure.

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Enemy

Enemy-PosterChaos is order yet undeciphered.

I don’t think I got it.  Most of it, I understand, I think.  The crux of it, however, will take a while to bubble up from my unconscious–where I felt it–to my conscious thoughts.  Enemy (2013) is very similar to Only God Forgives (2013) in that way.  Both use slick, beautiful cinematography (Nicolas Bolduc and Larry Smith, respectively) and a beautiful face (Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Gosling, respectively) to keep your mind at ease through the confusion.  Though Only God Forgives created mountains of dread and atmosphere such that it made me think something else was going on there–while it turned out the surface world was, in fact, all there was–Enemy builds those same feelings while remaining blissfully confusing.  I thought to myself “what the f***” at least a dozen times in both films, but in Enemy it was more appreciative than accusatory.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand Budapest HotelDid he just throw my cat out the window?

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is Wes Anderson‘s most pastel film to date and, as far as I’m aware, the most violent.  However, apart from its sudden and dramatic use of violence, nudity, and swearing, The Grand Budapest Hotel has the same charming darkness Anderson usually provides.  The film tells one story masquerading as three.  First, we meet an author (Tom Wilkinson) in 1985, who tells the story of his younger self (Jude Law) in the 1960s, who had met the old man Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who tells the story of his younger self (Tony Revolori) in 1932.  Zero Moustafa began his illustrious journey as a lobby boy in the Grand Budapest Hotel under the guidance of M. Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the finest concierge of his (or any other) day.  M. Gustave attracted a legion of old, rich, blonde women who would dote on (him among other things).  This leads to a tricky situation with a painting, made trickier by familiar political events, and a fair amount of hithering and thithering.

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Witness for the Prosecution

Witness for the ProsecutionDamn you!  Damn you!

In what may be the first spoiler alert in film history, Witness for the Prosecution (1957) ends with a narrator telling the audience not to spill the beans or else ruin the experience for everyone else.  It’s been almost 60 years and the secret has remained very well kept.  Such is our appreciative culture and literate writers that few great movies’s secrets and highlights go unreferenced.  And while Witness for the Prosecution had been well known to me as a title, its cover suggested something out of Matlock.  Perhaps advertising types had either never seen the film or simply felt that the image of Charles Laughton in a barrister’s wig would not appeal, but the main character in the film does not grace the DVD cover.  Instead, Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich, those grand names that mean almost nothing to the vast majority, show up looking vampiric and hysterical, respectively.  Few would know that they were missing another hilarious and clever entry in Billy Wilder‘s excellent career.  You mightn’t even know it’s set in Britain.

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The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises PosterLive your ten years well, Japanese boy.

Animation, like youth, is wasted on the young.  What CGI opened up for adult-oriented films was always available in cels and paint.  Wide audiences would not broadly accept mature stories with realistically rendered figures.  Where the viewer has to relax their sense of reality, most will always rebel against it.  It’s true of science fiction, fantasy, action, horror, and it is especially true of animation.  The same thing has happened for films in black and white or the stylized acting that often went with it.  How often do people seek out films or television precisely because they are said to be a “true story”?  The Wind Rises (2013), from “the Walt Disney of Japan”, Hayao Miyazaki, in what he says will be his final film, shows us what we’ve all been missing this past century with a film about vision, drive, love, and war.  It is dynamic and imaginative and real.  It’s even based on a true story.

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