Quick Takes – 09.26.10

Harold and Maude (1971)

Grade: A- | 1st Viewing

This quirky and original comedy was truly delightful in its eccentricity. The story is unusually romantic and the leading couple make for one of the most enjoyable on-screen pairs in cinema history. The film’s message is not as effective as it likely was during its early 70s release, following the youth-centric era of the 1960s. Harold and Maude counters that movement by presenting an aging woman who teaches the younger boy to break free from the restrictions of life instead of the cinematic convention of having a young person teaching an older character to “live again.”

Ruth Gordon is delightful as the unconventional Maude and I’m disappointed that I haven’t seen more of her work. The 70-something artist in practice manages the difficult feat of exuding elderly innocence and mysterious sex appeal. Hal Ashby’s direction is all the more impressive because of the fact that there is nothing unbelievable about the central relationship. Right from the movie’s start you know that Harold and Maude are meant for each other.

Wall Street (1987)

Grade: A | 2nd Viewing

I hadn’t seen this movie since I was in high school economics so I thought it was time to brush up before seeing the sequel. Oliver Stone’s first film about the rough and tumble world of the cutthroat 1980s Wall Street does everything right that its sequel does wrong. Most importantly it trusts its audience to know enough about basic economics by skipping over the unnecessary exposition and getting straight to the drama.

While today’s economic situation is largely characterized by the greed of a faceless corporation, the 1980s were defined by individual cases of greed with the bears and the bulls of Wall Street competing not only for the biggest stock market gains, but also for their faces to grace the cover of Money Magazine. Gordan Gekko is a perfect representation of the evil Wall Street bull and Michael Douglas’ performance is iconic and brilliant as he oozes sleaze.

I was also amazed by how in touch with technology this film was for its time. Wall Street in the 1980s was revolutionized by the addition of electronic trading and the film’s constant flashing LED lights and electronic stock tickers overwhelmed its characters with a feeling of rapidness. One particularly sad scene where an older broker gets canned because of his inability to connect in the new tech-infused world serves as a cautionary tale for the upcoming technology boom. Stone tells the viewer they must get plugged in or get left behind.

Dracula (1931)

Grade: C+ | 1st Viewing

I just finished reading Bram Stoker’s exquisite novel this week so I thought I’d check out the first movie to share the book’s title. I must say I definitely prefer F.W. Murnau’s silent Nosferatu, which preceded Dracula by almost a decade. Tod Browning and the various screenwriters took more than a few creative liberties to create something that is hardly recognizable as a Stoker adaptation apart from character names. Most disappointing to me was the fact that all suspense is sucked from the film as one of the minor characters reveals every secret about Count Dracula to both the audience and the characters in the first scene.

The film was excellently shot and it strongly resembles German Expressionism with its characters’ exaggerated gestures and its beautiful depth of shadows. The 74-minute running time hardly does Stoker’s story any justice and many potentially great scenes are glossed over, presumably for budget and time reasons. The climax was not nearly as epic as it should have been with the seemingly indestructible Count Dracula reduced to a moaning death off camera. However, the film is redeemed by Bela Lugosi’s performance, which is one of the most legendary horror performances ever put on screen.

What movies did you see this weekend?

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  • Jose

    I saw “Jaws” and “The Godfather” as part of my Cinema Appreciation class. Both films I had seen in bits and pieces throughtout my lifetime to to finally sit down and see them both in their entirety felt good.
    “Jaws” gets a B+ because it really is a well made popcorn flick that delivers the goods and “The Godfather” gets a very high B. The film was well made and there was never a boring moment in the film but I somehow felt like it was lacking. Since it focuses on three characters I didn’t feel like there was enough time to connect with with all of them. I wish that it was longer (although some of my classmates beg to differ) so that we could build a better relationship with the characters. Plus throughtout the years I had seen several key scenes being spoofed on “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld” so as soon as I saw them the experience was kind of ruined.

    “A Boy Named Charlie Brown”
    I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I saw the Peanuts movie, all I can say is that it was cute but it doesn’t match the joy and beauty that one collection of “Peanuts” brings, but it did come close.
    B.

    “The Good Girl”
    First Viewing
    This proves that it is possible for Jennifer Aniston to step out of her “Friends” role, but she still can’t pick good movies to be in.
    C

  • Andrew R.

    Give Dracula a higher grade NOW. And if you want to see more Ruth Gordon, watch Rosemary’s Baby. She deserved the Oscar.

    As for me:

    Wild Strawberries-I’ve seen the whole thing before, but in bits and pieces-A. Great job Ingmar Bergman…again.

    I had literally been planning my whole weekend to watch Some Like it Hot for the 2nd time, but, to make a long story short, it didn’t work out.

  • Didn’t see much this week, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who didn’t think much of “Dracula”. Overrated.

    Jose, a B for “The Godfather… Sorry, can’t understand that. One of the greatest films in cinema history, hands down. Same for “Jaws”. Both As for me.

  • @Jose – I think that the lack of character connection in ‘The Godfather’ was intentional. Francis Ford Coppola was the master of the medium because he really understood that film is visual – show, don’t tell. Instead of giving the characters long drawn out monologues to delve into their psychology he relies on the subtle nuances of Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, and Robert Duvall’s performances (among others). For instance Al Pacino’s look of sheer panic when he volunteers to step in and kill the crooked police captain says more than any dialogue could. Coppola leaves the camera on Pacino just long enough to give the audience catharsis.

    These days modern audiences get so accustomed to movies spelling out everything with the dialogue that it is beautiful to see such subtlety and trust in the actors. ‘The Godfather’ is a perfect movie and I love every frame.

    @G1000 – Have you read the book? It’s amazing! The boat voyage from Transylvania to England (which is carelessly glossed over in the movie) is some of the best suspense writing I’ve ever read. I was on pins and needles!

  • Jose

    I know it was intentional, but thanks to all of the films of my generation that feature delving into the psychology, I’ve been brainwahed into thinking that I personally feel the need to understand why the characters do what they do. I actually meant to add a + but it didn’t type in, but for some reason I think I’ll leave in the B.

    Andrew, Some Like It Hot is awesome.

  • Agreed on that last point, Jose.

    I have not read “Dracula”, though I’ve heard it’s really good.

  • Also, have any of you seen the reviews the American remake of “Let the Right One In” is getting? They’re pretty excellent, which surprised me immensely.

  • Dracula: A- The performance by Bela Lugosi and the art direction are all quite good.

    Wall Street: B With the exception of Michael Douglas it was all kind of disappointing.

    @Jose When I first saw the Godfather I thought the same exact thing, but now its one of my favorite movies. After you think about it for awhile it begins to soak in. Same goes with Part II which is better than the first.

  • Quinn

    I only saw one movie this week… “You Again”.

    My friends, for whatever reason, were dying to see it so i went with them. It wasn’t as bad as i thought it would be. I thought it would be kind of like “Bride Wars”, which was one of the most god awful movies I’ve seen. Right before the movie started I leaned over to my friend and said,
    ‘It will end like this. The mothers and the daughter and the bride will fight. They bride and groom break up because of it. But they get back together and they all get along.” Guess what. I was right. It was so cliched I could not believe it. I mean that kind of story has been done countless times, and it was every bit as predictable and monotonous as the other ones. Another thing that bugged me was it took place like three days before a wedding and there was no stress at all. Everyone was just hanging out and stuff. Yeah, because weddings are SO easy. And also I like Betty White and she is basically the only enjoyable character in this film, but she would be such much better in like a Woody Allen movie or anything other than what is she in lately. In the whole movie, there were one or two laughs and one very funny dance scene and clsosing scene, but those aren’t enough to save this movie.
    C-

  • La Comunidad (2000) Spanish film. 7.3/10
    Princess Mononoke (1997) 6/10

  • raguabros, 6/10 for Princess Mononoke? One of the greatest animated films of all time? Seriously, that film is a masterwork. Miyazaki’s finest, in my opinion.

  • I didn’t connect with it.. I saw all the praise everywhere, from Rottentomatoes to IMDB and everywhere in between, but it just didn’t do it for me. From Miyazaki I still prefer Spirited Away.

  • I love that film too, but “Mononoke” is in my top 20 of all-time. I love that film. Be sure to check out “My Neighbor Totoro” as well.

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