Wednesday, 4 August 2010

New classics

I figured it wouldn't do too well to just list every movie I ever saw in this here blog. For a while the idea was to do deeper articles over some theme, but as I'm busy doing those 21st century lists (it would be nice if someone read them), I'm a little too busy at the moment.

So I'll try something a little different. I'll do flat-out reviews of some films I get to see on press screenings, and if I see a great older movie, I'll write something about it too. No use saving these for a later article (well, most of 'em). As I'm working for the Helsinki International Film Festival at the moment, the new reviews are a bit of a taboo, as I could use them to market my festival. So I'll mostly do just these.

So recently, I've seen the following great films:

12 Angry Men
Director: Sidney Lumet
USA, 1957

An American classic I've waited long to see. The film takes place in a single room, as 12 anonymous characters argue over one subject. This doesn't sound that promising at first, but things are kept very interesting throughout. The fact that they are a jury deciding on whether to send a man to the electric chair or not, helps of course. The film is a plea for humanism, as it condemns capital punishment as there might be a risk that innocent people get executed. It unravels this fact by letting the 11 jurors slowly come to realize that the case isn't as clear as they previously had thought. It is also a great psychological piece of the human nature and the different motivations people might have on doing a big decision. Most of them are not clean by any means. The movie is also carried by fantastic performances and I start to see what Sergio Leone saw in Henry Fonda, the original Last Boy Scout.

This used to be the highest-ranking film on the IMDb top 250 I hadn't seen. Now it's Toy Story 3.

The Big Risk (Classe Tous Risques)
Director: Claude Sautet
France, 1960

The French crime classics are cool as cucumbers, but sometimes they get a bit dull for being too similar. This rings true to most Jean-Pierre Melville's films. Yet this film, by Claude Sautet, preceeds most of them and still finds a twist or two to keep things interesting. The film follows two criminals, on the run from the law from a somewhat petty robbery. They make things harder for them by shooting police and getting the other one's family involved. Yet, they never see the error of their ways and plan to make one last heist, the big one. The problem, as usually is in these sort of tales, is the question on who to trust. The honour among thieves is flimsier among some than pothers. Even though the main characters are not too personal, the film is quite exciting as one of them has childern with him and the other falls in love. An the police won't save their bullets, as neither will rival gangsters. An edge-of-your seat stuff, here. I also like how the story takes place in various places in Europe I've recently visited, including Milan and Paris.

Forbidden Planet
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
USA, 1956
Another classic I hadn't previously seen, but this time it was my own fault. I had this on a VHS for years and years and never bothered to watch it (I still have a VHS player but as you can imagine, I watch tapes kind of rarely).

It's a kind of a rare feat, a science fiction movie made in the 50's, that's actually worth its salt. This film doesn't rely on just otherworldly special effects to tell a simple story for children. No, the story is mostly exposition, and requires the viewer to understand some concepts of Freudian psychoanalysis to make sense. But exposition in a sci-fi/fantasy environment is not a bad thing per se, as it allows the viewer to fill in the rest of the imaginary world with his/her own imagination. It works quite well here.

It is also a story on how one individual's dreams gone astray can bring death and destruction. It is a common theme in fiction, as the popular Inception also has dreams overcome their master. But Forbidden Planet has absolutely stunning sets and matte paintings for its claim, not to mention an over-serious robot as a comic relief. Inception didn't have a robot. Robbie went on to become a big star and to make a long and lasting career after this film. I remember him from Gremlins. But also the visual world of this film has inspired countless later films.

The Young One
Director: Luis Bunuel
Mexico, USA 1960
Bunuel is a brilliant director and it's always a treat to see something new from him. This drama is progressive for its time in that it concerns pretty deep racial and sexual issues. Bunuel was again, as he was more often than not, way ahead of his time. The film is a story of a young girl, and alcogholic middle-aged man and a young black man on one island.

The film's almost like an early blaxploitation movie with its characterizations, with a strong black hero, who narrow-minded white people hate, persecute and chase even without a flimsy reason. The problem is that this guy is no Dolemite and the punches and shots actually hurt him. He is seen as a sexual threat to the young girl, although the paedophilic older white man actually proves to be much more hungry for her flesh. Even the bad guy isn't one-sided, there are three-dimensional dilemmas he faces as well as a tragic history, which has made him somewhat of a people-hating hermit. Like 12 Angry Men, this one also condemns making judgements based on emotions, rather than reason and facts.

In the end the tensions are resolved, but not too cathartic. Everyone gets what one desreves even if traditional judgemet is not dealt out. Yet the film leaves an uneasy feeling. As the world hasn't changed anywhere, the characters might still have some rough times ahead. Nevertheless, a great film.

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