Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Ciao! -- Critic Fix
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Plot Development: 3 stars
Character Development: 3 stars
Cinematography: 3 stars
Costuming: 3 stars
Overall Rating: 3 stars
"Cimarron means wild, unruly." So says one of the characters in this 1931 film. In 1889, Cimarron Territory was the unofficial name for the unsettled West and Midwest portions of the United States. Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) is a larger-than-life man who sees this rugged terrain as one big adventure. Based on Edna Ferber's book by the same name, this movie follows Yancey as he takes part in the Oklahoma land rush and then moves his wife Sabra (Irene Dunne) and young son out to start a new life and a newspaper in the newly formed town of Osage, Oklahoma. But life in Oklahoma is not always easy. As they try to start their new life, the Cravats face many challenges including the rebel outlaws and crooked townspeople. But perhaps the most dangerous threat to their marriage is Yancey's wanderlust. As his desires lead him further away from home, Sabra shows her true grit in keeping her household and their newspaper running all by herself.
Spanning over 30 years of frontier life, the film was quite an epic production and exciting to watch. The shots of the Oklahoma land rush in particular, were spectacular. In fact they were so well done, that the only real difference I saw between these shots and the land rush scenes in 1992's Far and Away was that the latter was shot in color. Likewise, the town of Osage changes during the movie, from a dangerous dirty settlement in 1889 to an Oklahoma metropolis in 1930. This is all done convincingly for the screen.
That being said, I felt that this movie suffered in the way many epic films do -- it was big on production but lacking an emotional core (okay and it also really lacked sound quality, but hey, movie companies were just figuring out how to use sound and you can get the basic idea if not every word). The characters were fleshed out, but it sometimes felt like they were the backdrop for the awesome crowd scenes and ahead-of-their-time sets.
About ten, maybe fifteen minutes into the movie, I realized I had a problem. Yancey and Sabra were already moving in opposite directions (as they did for the whole movie), and I just couldn't quite figure out who to root for. The movie was obviously 'pushing' the viewer to like Yancey Cravat, the main character. But I had a problem with that. There were many aspects of his character that truly turned me off. I wanted to love his wife simply for putting up with him and loving him despite his arrogance, but her blatant racism made her hard to warm up to. What was I to do? Root for Sabra? Root for Yancey? Hmmmmmmmm...
We'll start this discussion by dissecting Yancey. First off, there was the matter of his haircut. Atrocious. Secondly, he was the cause of the most traumatic moment in the picture (for me at least). This is when he nays -- that's right, neighs -- the weirdest, loudest, longest horse-like neigh that I have ever heard a human being produce. At first I thought there was a problem with the sound and there was going to be a horse in the next scene. But alas, no. Yancey makes this noise right in the face of the town bully as a threat. That 10 second long moment, although terrifying and strange, is worth the cost to rent the film.
Most importantly, I had a problem with the way he treated Sabra. He never really listens to her, but patronizes her like a child. When he hears that the Cherokee land has been opened up to settlers, he runs off and leaves his wife and children for over five years. The day he returns, he heads off to court to defend the bawdy house madam Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor), a fallen woman whom his own wife is trying to run out of town (okay so I agree with him that there is no found evidence for kicking Dixie Lee out of town, but the point is that his wife begs him not to do it and he doesn't even sit down and discuss it with her, he just ignores her pleas and rushes off to do what he wants to do). Not long after this incident, he leaves again.
On the positive side, he is an over-the-top sort of man who usually stands up for what's right. He is loved by all (except the corrupt). When he talks, people listen. When he shoots, people die. When asked to give the town's first sermon, he ends up shooting the town bully right in the middle of the service. He displays awesome courage in defending the town from rugged outlaws. He writes editorials about the Indians' rights and as I said above, defends Dixie Lee when she is wrongly accused. He also dies heroically. That being said, he leaves his wife for years at a time and he's a jerk to her when he comes back. Oh. Did I already say that? Sorry. Richard Dix also overacts this part to the point of comedy at times (see horse-naying anecdote above).
On to Sabra. She's a wimp. She's also a bigot who is overly condescending to the young slave Isaiah and repeatedly tells her husband and her son to stay away from the "dirty, filthy Indians."
But, other than that I felt really sorry for her. She is sweet and yet she is strong enough to survive when Yancey keeps running off. By the end of the film, she has changed her bigoted ways and embraces her son's Indian bride, Ruby. Also, at the end of the film, she is elected as a Congresswoman.
I guess it's pretty clear that I just liked Sabra more than Yancey. Sorry folks, Critic Fix will always been against cocky heroes.
Most likely it is because of it's blatant racism that this Best Picture is not a favorite with today's audiences. And although it was good enough to draw me in and make me feel conflicted, it is the horse-like nay alone that makes it worthwhile for anyone else to pick it up.
- Even though it was shot during the depression, RKO Pictures spent over $1.5 million to produce this picture. However, because American audiences were actually suffering through the depression, the movie's success wasn't enough to recover from the cost of this film and RKO ended up folding.
- More than 5,000 extras, twenty-eight cameraman, and numerous camera assistants and photographers were used to capture scenes of wagons racing across grassy hills and prairie.
- A special award for make-up was given to Ern Westmore for his work on the film. (I felt that this was very justly deserved, the characters 'aged' in a very realistic way)
Perhaps I am just a glutton for punishment, but I have high hopes for Grand Hotel! -- Critic Fix
Sunday, February 4, 2007
Plot Development: 2 stars
Character Development: 1 star
Cinematography: 3 stars
Costuming: 2 stars
Overall Rating: 3 stars
This film is based on Erich Maria Remarque's book of the same title. It follows the wartime experiences of Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres), a young German soldier in World War I. He and several of his classmates are led to enlist after their school teacher gives stirring speech praising the heroism and loyalty of soldiers. However, when Paul and his classmates embark upon their journey, it is not as they expected. They struggle to survive with little food, non-stop artillery fire and the continual monotony of battle. As Paul watches his friends die, he observes the randomness and pointlessness of war. We see him change from a naive young man to a jaded soldier. When he is wounded and goes home to visit his family, he has a hard time making sense of his hometown and the people at home. While he and his friends long for peace, everyone at home is talking about pushing on to Paris. Paul returns to the battle front to find only his mentor Kat and a few friends remain. The movie's ending is bleaker than the beginning, but I won't ruin it in case you decide to watch it.
All Quiet on the Western Front one of my husbands favorite books and I just read this book last year (as part of my 25 books goal) so I was eager to see it on the big screen (okay, so our tv has a 13" screen, but you know what I mean).
Unfortunately, this movie disappointed us both on several levels. First of all the character development was so weak I wasn't sure who Paul was until he had already enlisted and was fighting his first battle. It was hard to keep his classmates straight as their individual personalities were never fleshed out. Perhaps this was intentional, to make their deaths seem even more pointless, but it made me less interested in the film.
The acting in this film was also really poor. Paul's character was so melodramatic it felt like a badly done soap opera. Likewise, his teacher's speech was so overacted I couldn't truly believe that it would prompt anyone to go to war. The French women that the soldiers meet (and woo with food) were so giggly and girly it was just annoying. The only person that I did enjoy watching was Louis Wolhelm, the actor who played Paul's mentor Kat. His acting was not overdone, but carefully crafted to portray a realistic, hardened and experienced veteran. I also liked his broken nose.
Not only was the acting bad, but the plot progression was incredibly slow. Again, the director (Lewis Milestone) might have done this intentionally to capture the monotony of war, but there were many scenes (particularly the battle scenes and those where the soldiers were waiting out artillery fire in the trenches) that should have been edited down. They slowed the pace of the film and made me even less interested in what was happening to Paul and his friends -- I just wanted the film to be over!
The battle scenes went back and forth between good and bad. There were some incredibly realistic and freightening shots. But there were also many scenes where the soldiers' deaths can only be described as fake-looking. They reminded me of little boys on a playground pretending to die during a game of cops and robbers.
In conclusion, if you want to watch an interesting film about WWI, you should rent WINGS. While I didn't think that film was a winner, at least I didn't fall asleep twice while watching it (okay, to be honest, I did fall asleep once while watching WINGS -- but I was really tired! And it's still a better film than this one). I have the feeling I will be saying this a lot in future posts, but if you want to enjoy your experience of All Quiet on the Western Front, read the book!
- Between the period of 1928 to 1941 this was one of many films to be banned in Australia by the Chief Censor Creswell O'Reilly
- The fanzine that singer/songwriter Pete Doherty was junior editor of as a boy, All's Quiet on the Western Avenue, is a pun on the title of this film.
Cimarron (not cinnamon), a movie about the Oklahoma land rush, is next!-- Critic Fix
Friday, February 2, 2007
As I said before, Sunrise was given the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production (in 1929, for films made in 1927 or 1928) which some have considered to be a variation of Best Picture. There was no Best Picture Academy Award given in 1929. But, in a way, 1929 had two Best Pictures, WINGS and Sunrise. Wikipedia lists both of these films as Best Picture, but most lists do not include Sunrise. As I said before, the list of Best Pictures on Netflix did not include Sunrise as a Best Picture so my husband didn't put it on our queue. If I had my druthers, I would have liked to watch this one too and would have watched it before The Broadway Melody.
However, what I didnt realize when I wrote my first post (saying how I would watch Sunrise after The Broadway Melody) is that Sunrise is unavailable to me. It isn't at Blockbuster. It isn't at the library. It isn't available through Netflix. So, I will not be able to review it at this time. If someone out there would like to hunt down a copy of it, by all means, please send it my way. But for now, I am continuing on without having watched it.
And again, as most lists of Best Pictures do not include Sunrise, I can live with myself for not having seen it! Does that clarify things or just make it worse?
-- Critic Fix