Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Movie #101 - The Last Emperor

"He was the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, the absolute monarch of China. He was born to rule a world of ancient tradition. Nothing prepared him for our world of change."

The Last Emperor is one of those films that won a number of Oscars (nine in total), including Best Picture, but is a film that few people watched when it was originally released in theatres. The story is about the last emperor of imperial China and follows the life of the man selected for this throne.

It definitely has a great deal of historical significance, although I doubt it is entirely accurate for entertainment purposes. However, you cannot question the wonderful script, the cinematography, and overall costume and set design. These were done with such care and detail, the time period for which Director Bernardo Bertolucci was attempting to capture was easily conveyed to his audience.

The Last Emperor was one of those films that did a complete clean sweep of every category for which it was nominated. Some may question why leading actor Jone Lone (Emperor Pu Yi's) or even supporting actor Peter O'Toole (R.J. Johnston) were not recognized for this film. Lone does a tremendous job as the adult Emperor Pu Yi and his acting is compelling throughout the film. O'Toole, best known for his role in Lawrence of Arabia, was snubbed throughout his stellar career to this day and has yet to win an Oscar for acting on his own (recently recognized for lifetime achievement).

Although The Last Emperor is definitely a must see amongst Best Picture winners from 1980-2008, it is quite long and it is a period, historical piece that has some slow parts to it. The set design and filming of this movie provide breathtaking panoramic shots, however, for the everyday movie goer, this movie might seem boring at times.

As a recognition of its overall achievement, The Last Emperor is one of those films that was included in the famed Criterion Collection. Many international films belong to this elite group of movies. The collection recognizes the best films from many countries - selecting the key classical and contemporary films of each nation. Its a wonderful collection to view and own - unfortunately, the films are in limited release and are quite expensive. My mother has found a nice cache of films in the public library system - probably the best way to view these without shelling out a large sum of money. Either way, the entire collection is worth checking out for the more advanced movie fan - especially if you are interested in seeing classics from other countries.

Movie #100 - Platoon

"The first casualty of war is innocence."

This movie was made during a time in the 80's when making movies about the Vietnam War was commonplace. There are other movies that look at this war, such as Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, Bat 21, Born on the Fourth of July, The Killing Fields, The Deer Hunter, and Casualties of War. More recently, there are films like We Were Soldiers and ForrestGump that look at different aspects of the war itself.

I am a big fan of The Deer Hunter as this film is in my top 20 movies list, however, Platoon is probably Oliver Stone's best film as it is a loose biopic of his personal experience in Vietnam. The movie follows Charlie Sheen's character as he goes through his tour of duty in the war. During his time, we meet other characters portrayed by solid performances from the likes of TomBerenger, Willem Dafoe, Forrest Whitaker, and Johnny Depp . Based on these names alone, you wouldn't be able to make a movie of this magnitude anymore unless you had a big budget. However, you must also take into account thatDepp and Whitaker were still relative unknowns and had minor support roles in this film.

Charlie Sheen's character goes through the trials and tribulations of what the Vietnam War experience is like as told through Oliver Stone. Although his portrayal is dark, saddened, and filled with iconic scenes that impact the movie viewer, it is quite frank and provides a stark look at what life was like for the soldiers over there.

I would've liked to see more character development amongst the various actors that appear in this film... (*Note: spoiler alert) the biggest conflict developed through the movie is the rivalry between Dafoe and Berenger - which is culminated by Dafoe's memorable death scene at the end of the movie.

For those who have yet to see this movie - it is definitely one to watch, however, Deer Hunter is still probably the best movie to be made for the Vietnam War... not because of the action sequences or the storyline itself, but it is a movie contrasting ChristopherWalken with Robert De Niro in their prime - enough said!

*Note: As a bonus - I have finally reached 100 movie reviews. Starting with movie review #100, I will also be providing a trailer of the movie through You Tube. Hopefully, this will entice readers to watch this film. As previously mentioned, I will continue reviewing the Best Picture winners from 1980-2008, however, I will only review those films that I have seen at this point - there are about five or six films that I have yet to watch... I'm working on it. EM

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Movie #99 - Amadeus

"Amadeus. The man. The music. The magic. The madness. The murder. The mystery. The motion picture."

One of my favourite movies from the 1980's, this one has probably been skipped by a number of movie goers from my age group because it is a time piece, despite the fact that it won for Best Picture in 1984. It is set during the time of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and is full of costumes, set design, and makeup from that time period - however, do not let that aspect sway you from watching this amazing movie.

Milos Forman does a great job in depicting the life of Mozart along with the wonderful music composed during that era. Forman is one of those directors that doesn't do a movie every one or two years, so his films are usually of great quality. Seek out some of his other great works such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Man on the Moon for some examples.

The real treat in this film is the contrasting leading role actors. Tom Hulce (probably better known for his role in Animal House, which is a major extreme in comparison to his accomplishments here) does a superb job as Mozart, while the darkest role of the movie is portrayed by F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri. Similar to other roles in Abraham's resume, Salieri's character is devious, evil, and is one you love to hate. If you want a good movie villain template, use Abraham's Salieri - his scenes strengthen the movie and Abraham is a fitting Oscar winner for Best Actor. Unfortunately, for Hulce, Abraham and Hulce were nominated for Best Actor for the same movie - so someone had to win here.

F. Murray Abraham has done quite a few movies in his time... best known as a movie villain, he's been in a number of movies that I find amusing or entertaining such as Scarface, Mimic, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Thirteen Ghosts. However, it seems that Abraham has become quite fond of voice over narration, as he is now the permanent voice of PBS' production of Nature and some Nova broadcasts - he's good at it, don't get me wrong, but I'd like to see him do more villainous work.

Apart from the set design, the acting, and the music, Amadeus is just a good story. There is deception, greed, anger, jealousy, and love all wrapped into this time piece. If you choose to watch this film with an open mind, Milos Forman won't let you down. If you were to do a marathon of his acclaimed movies - you will definitely enjoy a nice range of great movies!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Movie #98 - Terms of Endearment

"Come to Laugh, Come to Cry, Come to Care, Come to Terms."

This is one of those can't miss chick flicks - thankfully, for you guys out there that cannot stand these films, rent this one for the wife, girlfriend, or fiancee and you'll enjoy it too - I promise.

There are a number of reasons why this is true. First of all, its written and directed by James L. Brooks. For you Simpsons fans - its the same guy... back when he was doing something else other than cartoons. For those that don't know this, Brooks is a big influence on television viewers from the 70's to today. He is responsible for such classics as the Mary Tyler Moore show, Rhoda, and Taxi to his recent stuff with the Simpsons. Throw in As Good as it Gets and you have a very versatile talent with Brooks.

However, Brooks isn't the driving force behind this film. The contrasting roles of Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine in the typical mother-daughter love-hate relationship is what brings this film to life. MacLaine plays the nagging mother perfectly and Winger's acting compliments MacLaine's domineering character - which I believe will remind many female viewers of similar relationship woes with their mothers. Throw in some comedic relief from the likes of Jack Nicholson and you have some good chemistry for a great film.

Nicholson, MacLaine, and Brooks swept the awards that year and deservedly so. Insert other Hollywood notables such as John Lithgow, Danny DeVito, and Jeff Daniels and you have a great ensemble cast to enjoy.

There are some very funny scenes and to go in line with the chick flick recommendation, there are some very heartwarming scenes. Overall, your female companion will shed a tear and the male viewer will definitely need to prepare an excuse why there is suddenly dust in the room or an allergy that developed to some unknown animal. However, please enjoy this film as although it is over 26 years old now, it is a timeless classic that takes full advantage of actors in their prime combined with a wonderfully written script.

Movie #97 - Gandhi

"His Triumph Changed The World Forever."

With the Academy Awards ceremony soon approaching, I figured I would get some more entries into the system to allow readers to look back and reflect at some of the great movies that were recognized as Best Picture during my lifetime (1980-current).

Gandhi ranks up there as one of the greatest movies ever made, not only because of the epic nature for which this film was shot, but for the life of the man portrayed. Sir Ben Kingsley won the award for Best Actor and the film was recognized in a number of other important categories such as Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, and Costume Design.

However, looking back at this film, Director Richard Attenborough attempts to stay as true to the story of the life of Mohandas Gandhi that by the end of the film, many viewers are compelled by the performance of Kingsley as the great man. Kingsley gives a riveting performance here in this film, only to be compared to one of his other great roles in Schindler's List. However, his role as Gandhi will definitely be his crowning performance as an actor.

There are some other strong performances by the supporting cast that make this film a must watch. Although somewhat long in comparison to current movies being churned out in Hollywood, this is a movie that you cannot miss. In support of Kingsley's performance, you have solid appearances from Candice Bergen, John Gielgud, Martin Sheen, and Roshan Seth to name just a few key actors.

A bonus with this film are some of the epic panoramic shots of the landscape combined with the major action sequences requiring thousands of extras - typical for an epic motion picture. This movie is one of those films that you need to watch in your lifetime as a biopic of Gandhi's influential life and his impact on society today.

In an unrelated Gandhi viewing story, I am reminded of a certain fraternity brother protesting to my friends and I at the time for his preference to stay at home and watch Gandhi instead of going to the bars to pick up women. Considering we were all in our early 20's, I still cannot respect this person's decision to stay at home with Sir Ben Kingsley... I mean, the movie is spectacular and all, but not to the point where you can justify missing a night out with the boys.