Friday, December 30, 2011

Movie/Play and Book Reviews

Some kind people on Facebook have suggested that I use this blog to do some reviewing. I am always tickled by the way some critics speak as if their words have been sent from the gods and that if you disagree with what they believe you are an idiot. I am not one of those people. Everyone has his or her own set of criteria for judging a work of art, be they intellectual, emotional or simply visceral. You cannot argue with these feelings. For instance, one of my favorite "pop" movies of the not so recent past was the big budget INDEPENDENCE DAY. Now I know that the film is not CITIZEN KANE, nor does it profess to be, but taken for what it is, to me it is quite enjoyable and a film I return to when the twelve year old boy in me needs the sustenance of some great special effects and seeing the invasion of aliens through the safety of a LED T.V.

But to start off this discussion, let me name my twelve all time favorite film; I couldn't find just 10. (Favorite, mind you, not greatest as I wouldn't have the presumption to make such a list).

1)ALL ABOUT EVE (probably the most literate film ever made, complete with brilliant dialogue and superb acting. The direction of Joseph Mankiewicz is perfection).

2)GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (1969) This is the Peter O' Toole/Petula Clark musical version which, as an old teacher, moves me as no other. Savaged by the critics as not being up to its 1939 predecessor this movie pulls out all the stops in tugging at the heartstrings.

3)WILD STRAWBERRIES - Ingmar Bergman's most beautiful film dealing with the subjects of religion, science, love and growing old. Magnificent.

4)BALLAD OF A SOLDIER - A Russian film that takes place during WW2. Shown through the eyes of a naive young soldier all the brutality and idiocy of war is exposed. (Tear jerker alert!)

5)THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD - Now be careful here. This is NOT the Steve Reeves version made in the fifties, but rather the brilliant Technicolor version starring Sabu, John Justin and June Duprez made in England even as Hitler's bombs were falling. Maybe the most magical film I have ever seen, with a score by Miklos Rozsa that blows me away with its beauty.

6)ON THE WATERFRONT - Here is a film where everything works. Brando, Malden, Saint, Kazan with a musical score by Leonard Bernstein that enhances and delineates the characters. This is one I watch again and again.

7)DOCTOR ZHIVAGO/LAWRENCE OF ARABIA - Two David Lean films that I love. Hard to choose between them.

8)THE LADY VANISHES/SABOTEUR/FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT - Almost any Hitchcock (except, probably TO CATCH A THIEF and FRENZY) would make my list, but these three, from the late thirties and early forties are my favorites. If I had to pick a later Hitchcock favorite I would have to go with THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH followed closely by VERTIGO.

9)LA STRADA/ AMACORD- The great Fellini at the top of his game. I defy you to watch LA STRADA and not to fall in love with Giuletta Masina as Gelsumina.

10)TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD- One of the only times a film is almost as good as the book it was taken from. Gregory Peck is Atticus and the music by Elmer Bernstein is one of the best film scores ever composed.

11) THE COLOR PURPLE - Spielberg's film was blasted by the critics, nominated for 13 Oscars from which it won none(!) and it remains as, in my opinion, one of his great masterpieces.

12) FIELD OF DREAMS- What is there to say? Heaven or Iowa, this film is simply magnificent

Okay...those are my choices Agree? Disagree? What are your choices? Please leave a comment. (Even if it's to say I should disband this blog!) Jeff


ROswaks said...

Hi Jeff. I agree with many of your choices and especially love All About Eve, as well. And, I distinctly remember being in your class at EMHS and your showing us a copy of Wild Strawberries on a beat up old projector! I find it hard to name a top list, so I categorize by directors (Eastwood, Scorsese, Coppola, Wilder, Ford, Spielberg, Wyler...)....Happy New Year.

Jeff Laffel said...

Hey Bob: I watched it again only last week. Truly great film.

WallyWalkup41 said...

Impressive list. I would add a few. These are under the short category "No matter what I'm doing, if I stumble upon them while surfing I watch them again" :)

In no particular order: Casablanca, Forrest Gump, Shawshank Redemtion, The Searchers, McLintock, In The Line of Fire, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Hang 'Em High, Vertigo.

Jeff Laffel said...

Hey Wally: Don't know why, but I've always been luke warm about CASABLANCA, though I like it more with every viewing. Not a big Eastwood fan, but I certainly agree with THE SEARCHERS and VERTIGO.

Tim said...

Where does 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' fall in your rating's of movies? I remember you mentioning the movie in class.

Jeff Laffel said...

Tim: I love FAST TIMES as well as AMERICAN GRAFFITI, but not great favorites. Spicoli will always rule!

Rhon831 said...

I actually counted 16 films - you cheated by having multiples for a few lists...

As for Independence Day - I prefer "Men In Black" - questions of quality aside, I almost always stop to watch it when I find it.

I recently watched "All About Eve" with someone who had never seen it before. Needless to say, he didn't go to EMHS ... and he was floored by how good it was.

I remember seeing most of these in class. But what about The 39 Steps or the original Little Shop of Horrors?

Jeff Laffel said...

Watched an interesting documentary called TOOTS last night. Toots Shor, the owner of a night spot in the 1940's-50's that bore his name, is the subject and an interesting personality he was. Fascinating to see the rise and fall of such a formidable person, as well as amazing archival shots of old New York. Not a must, but recommended for those who like such things. (Got it from Netflix)

The other day I finally saw THE HELP. Beautifully done, (I look forward to watching it again)though not as gut wrenching as the novel on which it was based. Looking back at the 1960's in the south, one wonders how such vile prejudice was able to exist. (I am sure there is much of it left today, but since the African American community and President Johnson stood up and said,"No more" there is certainly a more even playing field.) Watching the film I was brought back to Germany in the 1930's and 40's when the "Jewish question" was answered by Hitler and his gang. How easy it is for the bullies and loathsome types amongst us to find a minority to try to destroy. Like SCHINDLER'S LIST before it, THE HELP is about people with no way out, having to deal with the whims of their oppressors. There is a sign hanging over the gate as you leave the Dachau concentration camp that reads, "Never Again". We as a country must be vigilant to be sure that the next minority, (gays, Mexican aliens, progressives?) do not fall prey to the same treatment as did our Jewish and African-American brethren. (Wow! That really got political). If for no other reason..and, as I say there are many...see THE HELP for the amazing acting of Octavia Spenser, Viola Davis and Cicely Tyson. All should be up for awards. What do you think?

Writergrrl said...

I have become a rabid classic film fan, and I know this is a culmination of life experience, nostalgia for the afternoon TV movies (that used to be shown on ABC & the independent stations -- Million Dollar Movie!) and the exposure to the classics I received during 12th grade English. West Side Story! All About Eve! Lovely Lara and that stark Russian tundra! Talk about an education!

I credit Robert Osborne and TCM with my introduction to the creepy yet captivating Night of the Hunter. There's something about that film that keeps me watching over and over. I too adore La Strada and Nights of Cabiria. I'm also part of the cult of Casablanca (the perfect screenplay!), and since seeing The Gold Rush at the NYFF earlier this year, then The Artist, and learning more about Marion Davies as a docent at her former Santa Monica beach house, am acquiring a taste for silent films.

OK, long-winded way of saying yes, agree with your list. Although my guilty pleasure is Peter Sellers in The Party. Birdie Num Num! :-)

Wade Robbins said...

I see The Searchers was mentioned. I gave my Pastor a DVD containing this movie and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. She is not a fan of westerns so I had to explain that these movies are westerns in name only (like The Unforgiven). If she watches them and comments, I will pass on her thoughts.

WallyWalkup41 said...

No love for Clint Eastwood? Why? His acting or his movies?

WallyWalkup41 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WallyWalkup41 said...

Mr. L, with regards to your "Jewish question" comment, while in Slovakia 6 years ago I went over to Poland to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp. I can't even write the horror that I saw. I don't understand humanity at times.

I live in Georgia now. Racism has improved, but is still alive. They can change the flag, pass all the "hate" laws that they want, but until you change their hearts the bigots and racists will still act the same.

Jeff Laffel said...

No question, Wally.The divisiveness and hatred that has sprung up in our country as of late is truly terrifying in its virulence and its intensity. (Not to get too political, but when someone like Rick Santorum criticizes other countries for being theocracies while at the same time wanting to make our country a theocracy as well, the mind boggles.)
As American we MUST recognize and respect diversity of every kind.

Mark Horowitz said...

Pretty good list Jeff, hard to argue it as these things are so subjective. Here is my list in no order.

1- Casablanca - Great propaganda for a nascient war effort. A simple story of good vs. evil , selfish vs selfless love and a lost soul finding himself and of course doing the right thing. Just what the coutry needed to get going in those dark days after Pearl Harbor.

2- The Producer's (Gene Wilder/Zero Mostel version) On so many levels a perfect film. The script should be taught in writing classes as an example of how to structure a three act story, how characters arc and how conflict is introduced and resloved and how great casting and chemistry tie it all up so beautifully.

3- Bob le Flambeur Jean-Pierre Melville give us a great anti-hero in a stylized film noir.

4- Rififi - Another great french film noir with the most suspenseful 20 minutes of silent action I've ever seen.

5-Chinatown - great writing, acting anddirection it has it all.

6-The Victors - A great anti war film from 1963 that is not on video and I haven't seen it on TV in over 25 years but if you can find it, what a trat. Vince Edwards, Albert Finney, Melina Mercouri and many other greats. It will change the way you listen to Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas foreever.

7-Raging Bull/Mean Streets- Early Scorscese is truly something to behold and enjoy over and over again.

8- Christmas in July or just about anything Preston Sturges wrote or directed. Too bad no one writes likethat anymore.

9-Stray Dog - Early Kurosawa, a great tale of unexpected consequences, gangsters and Japanese baseball.

10- The Magic Christian/Harold & Maude/If All great examples of early independent film making. All funny irreverent and shocking. The independent film world was just starting to take on the establishment in the late 60's/early 70's. Perhaps their finest moments.

Honorable mentions: The Wild Bunch 40+ years later and it is still as exciting as any action film coming out of Hollywood today.

Muppets in Space - Because my kids love it and I love it and we enjoy watching it together and that is also what makes a film great.

Jeff Laffel said...

Little known fact, Mark. I was one of the original MUPPETS IN SPACE. (Now I'm just one of the two cranky old men who sit in the theater box. Oh, the vicissitudes of age!

Jeff Laffel said...

Perusing this list again and am appalled to find that I left out CITIZEN KANE. When I first saw it as a college kid, I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Though still marvelous, (and I watch it at least twice a year)a certain deadening has crept in that I can't shake. Whether it is the mean spirited nature of Mankiewicz and Welles in naming Kane's lost love "Rosebud" (the pet name, it turns out, that William Randolph Hearst, on whom the character of Kane is built, called his lover Marian Davies' private parts, or the brilliant photography that has been copied over and over again since Kane was released in 1941, so that now it seems "been there/done that"...something, and it's intangible, doesn't click for me anymore. Is it still one of the greatest films ever made. Hell,yes! Has it influenced every film maker since its release? Of course. But still, it just doesn't move me the way it used to. Damn!