When you hear about gangs in New York, do you automatically think of the Sharks and the Jets? When is the last time you heard someone say that they feel or look pretty when you didn’t think of West Side Story and the infamous song I Feel Pretty… “I feel pretty…oh, so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and bright…” If you don’t know that song, you might want to watch or even re-watch this film and I promise that soon, you will humming at least one of its many catchy, timeless tunes. Trust me, this film is contagious. More than most musicals of its era, this one is filled with songs and characters that are actually memorable. True, there is some corny stuff here but it wouldn’t be a 1960s musical with some sentiment. Part of the “difference” of West Side Story comes from the music itself…a score and songs written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Both men perfectly capture the rhythm and energy of New York, but without forgetting about the grime and grit that goes along with any urban setting. Speaking of New York, this one is actually FILMED there…on the streets themselves…not on a set, like most musicals (and even many non-musical movies) of the day. So, the Jets and the Sharks are fighting about territory we REALLY see and can REALLY feel. The story, for the few who do not know, is really a modern day re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed who were doomed from the get-go. Whereas Shakespeare’s couple had feuding Italian families to hinder their romance, here it’s rival gangs and, more importantly, different cultures that get in the way of the young lovers’ happiness (Tony is in a White gang…The Jets…and Maria’s brother, Bernardo, is leader of the Puerto Rican gang, The Sharks). The real draw to this one, though, is the music…which is good since this is a musical, right? I promise after you hear a few bars of America, you will be singing along for weeks…“I like to be in America…OK by me in a America…”
Posts Tagged: adaptation
One of the best novels of the 20th Century is wonderfully adapted into one of the best films of the century, as well. Talk about a rarity! Many adaptations, especially those of well-received books, fall far from the mark usually. Either they are generally not good, or they are edited so much that the book’s story is hardly recognizable. In this faithful adaptations, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale stays true…mostly because of the vivid performances, especially by Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Peck won his only Oscar for his portrayal as the Southern Gentleman who is both a lawyer who defends innocent, yet African American, Tom Robinson and also the father of Scout and Jem Finch. Wonderfully directed and shot as well… the fictional town Lee created of Maycomb, Georgia really comes to life as a conflicted small-town. And the mood of the era…the 1930s…is also captured. Racism was rampant during these years…especially in the South. Southerners were still bitter over the Civil War and still saw Blacks as slaves. An almost-perfect interpretation of one of the more perfect books of American literature.
Everytime I see this one, for some reason I always forget the twists and turns it takes, which is good since that of course increases the suspense for me. This is a prime example of wonderful melodramatic noir films of the post-WWII era…maybe even the best example. Not as serious as Laura, (or as good) and not as over-the-top as some (such as the Joan Crawford campy classic Mildred Pierce), The Postman Always Rings Twice is a perfect mix of murder and sex. Based on the short novel written by the same author as Pierce and another murder/sex film noir classic Double Indemnity, James M. Cain, Postman finds drifter John Garfield drifting to a roadside gas station/café owned by a older guy and his sultry, younger wife, Cora, who puts the D in DAME and the X in SEX. Lana Turner has never had to play up her sensual self as much as in this film…she seems to just sizzle each time the camera is on her. And Garfield does a good job of catering to her…not being able to resist, but putting up just enough resistance to lead to trouble. Basically, a great potboiler for those cold, lonely nights.
This is the classic example of film noir….more than Otto Preminger’s Laura…more than anything else of the era. Why? Well, because this one’s got everything. In a big way too….lust, murder, the perfect femme fatale, the perfect fall-guy, the perfect everything. Based on the novel by James M. Cain (who also penned The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce) and directed by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity is a thriller from start to finish…you’re always wondering and questions and getting closer and closer to the edge of your seat. Fred MacMurray plays a sarcastic insurance salesman who catches Barbara Stanwyck’s eye when he goes to try and sell her husband some insurance. Stanwyck is unhappily married and MacMurray knows it. The one thing in their way…her husband. Like in Postman, husbands are always expendable. Stanwyck is simply the best film femme fatale ever. She’s mean without being hard. She’s cool under pressure without being too sentimental. Stylized and perfectly cast, this Wilder masterpiece set the standard for film noir films…and dared others to try and top it…which, in my opinion, no film ever did.
The ladies are all back…with their beaus…and they’ve all hit NYC by storm once again. I was never THAT into the show – I had seen an episode here, a clip there – so I was worried if that would effect how I liked the movie. Well, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) does a nice recap in the beginning of the film that pretty much makes sure fans and novices alike are relatively on the same page. And after that, WATCH OUT! It’s a wild ride of emotions, fashion, music, posing, clubbing, love and hate. The major critical complaint about this one has been that it’s too long. But, I would disagree with that, saying that the time passes quickly and there really are never any lulls. Another criticism I’ve heard is that it’s shallow. HELLO! The TV series was shallow! So, did we really expect the movie to become this deep, philosophical study? We would not go see something like that, but we would see this…something fun and light. This is not a heavy movie. It’s a good movie for girlfriends to see together and compare notes about after. It’s not going to come up on Oscar night (except maybe for costumes!). It’s fun. Just like the show was. We really wouldn’t have wanted them to change anything, did we?
All I had heard about this movie is that it’s about a man who gets younger, rather than older. And that is an important part of the film…but it is far from the crux of the film. The film, at its true heart, is a love story, which is well-done, not contrived and very well plotted. This surprised me for several reasons. David Fincher is not exactly the “go to” guy for your Hollywood love story. He’s a action/thriller/gritty/dark director who’s films always have an edge. Here, I feel Fincher’s edge is the fantasy of the aging backwards gimmick, since the love story he creates is simple and gentle…a touching masterpiece of on-screen romance. This is the type of love story you would see with Tracy and Hepburn…magical and real. It reminded me a little of William Wyler’s Roman Holiday, which, like this film is known more for another aspect of the film (in Wyler’s case, his movie is known more for being a comedy) than for the more touching, more vivid true sentiment of the film. Fincher’s fantasy aspect adds emphasis to the love story, just like Wyler’s comic aspects of Roman Holiday accentuate the doomed relationship between Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. In addition to this multi-layered story, the performances by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett have never been better…especially Pitt, who convinces us every step of the way that he really is a man who was born old and will die young.
A great movie that actually makes its audience think. I know — THE HORROR, THE HORROR. We have to THINK! A tough, hard film, Doubt is superbly acted and scripted. Why is it hard? Well, it deal with one of our most taboo subjects — priests and young boys and doing more than sipping the alter wine together. Meryl Streep places a nun running a school in the early 1960s. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the attached church’s priest. There is some suspicion about him with the alter boys, but Streep doesn’t have any proof. She just has her doubts. I walked out of the theater thinking I had just seen a good movie and that would be the end of it…but it stuck with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Did he or didn’t he? Did Streep’s nun do the right thing? What would have been a better solution? Etc… Sadly, most movies today don’t even make your brain click on. So, when one comes around where it keeps your thought processes going for days…it’s a keeper!
Director Otto Preminger really proved he was a filmmaker with clout by being able to make a film like this. Even in 1959, when Hollywood was actually THINKING first and making money second, this film was a risk. First, its dialogue gets pretty graphic (for the day). Secondly, much of the second half of the film is set ONLY in the courtroom, leaving the audience nothing to do than watch lawyers bickering and objecting. Preminger must have known what he was doing when he made this black and white, two-and-a-half-hour courtroom drama…because I dare you to take your eyes off this one for even a second. Yes, I said two-and-a-half-hours…much of it set in court with more dialogue than action. But, somehow, it works. It is a truly captivating film. James Stewart plays a quirky small-town lawyer who takes the case of an Army lieutenant who gets arrested for killing a man who allegedly raped his wife. We find this out right in the beginning and then the rest of the film is how Stewart goes about setting up his case and what steps he takes before and during trial. Sounds dull, right? Well, as I said, Preminger must have had magic up his sleeve for this one because this film is never is dull. It clips along through witness testimony and presented evidence, and all that legal fun stuff. And trust me, there is plenty of tension…I mean all along we’re wondering if Stewart is going to be able to achieve what he set out to achieve…getting Lt. Manion off for the murder…a murder Lt. Manion has NEVER denied he committed. But, it’s more than just a movie about suspense…it’s a movie about the process of the law…about how our justice system works and about how lawyers plug along and make their case. A fascinating film about a subject that could have been un-fascinating, if put in the wrong hands. Thankfully, Preminger’s hands were the right ones.
Agatha Christie stuck mainly to her continuing characters…Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, etc…when writing. But, occasionally she would go off on a limb and write something original, introducing new characters to the audience. With the stage play Witness for the Prosecution, she created an entirely new world of people and situations, which kept the reader on his/her toes throughout. Made into a film in 1957 by talented and well-rounded film director Billy Wilder, the movie keeps us hanging until the last possible second and delivers the same kind of wallop as the play. Set in London, the story revolves around Leonard Vole’s (played by Tyrone Power) guilt or innocence. He is being tried for the murder of a wealthy, older woman he befriended. Unlike a lot of thrillers that are made, this one does have a very satisfying ending, do mostly to the relationship between Vole and his wife…one of Marlene Dietrich’s finest performances. But, the main character of the film is Sir Wilfrid Robarts, the crotchety, ailing barrister Vole gets to represent him. Not really known for light-ish roles, Charles Laughton dives into the barrister with a droll vigor that makes the audience LOVE Wilfrid even though he’s crass, brash, insubordinate, and very pig-headed. Laughton just seems to be having so much fun playing this character; without him, Wilfrid would have just been another forgettable character.
Alfred Hitchcock’s first film made in America, with producer David O. Selznick of Gone with the Wind fame, sealed the director’s fate as an established and successful filmmaker. Rebecca won the Best Picture Oscar in 1940, even though Hitchcock was overlooked as Best Director. This is not to say the film is without flaws. Joan Fontaine is supposed to play the innocent, naïve female lead, but she always seems much too old and sophisticated for the part, even though she does her best to seem demure. Aside from that, the film is a great thriller…one that will stand the test of time as a solid Hitchcock thriller. Laurence Olivier is pretty perfect as Maxim de Winter—we buy him as a tormented man—and Judith Anderson shines as the evil, sinister Mrs. Danvers. And, of course, Hitchcock’s camera captures the right tone and mood from the Daphne Du Maurier novel, allowing us to see Manderlay as a place of both happiness and nightmares.