Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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#569 - The Broadway Melody
Harry Beaumont, 1929

A pair of sisters who perform in a vaudeville singing act come to New York to make their big break into show business.

I'm no stranger to disagreeing with the Academy's opinions over which films deserve to win the annual Best Picture award, but I do have to wonder if I could ever fairly judge some of the award's earliest recipients. The Broadway Melody is the second film to ever win Best Picture and in doing so became the first of many musicals to achieve the honour. It came out of the era where talking pictures had just been invented and filmmakers everywhere were attempting to adapt to this new technology, so of course the most obvious application was to use it to record the crowd-pleasing antics of song-and-dance numbers. This film also justifies said antics by integrating them into a fast-talking backstage drama as two sisters looking to make the big time find themselves challenged by the cynical machinations that take place behind the scenes of all the light and wonder. Some of this manifests in the way of the sisters having their personal and professional relationship threaten to collapse under the demands of the industry and of the men that work within it, regardless of their intentions being malicious or benign.

Honestly, The Broadway Melody is boring. I realise that context is important and that, if nothing else, it does do a decent job of staging its musical numbers, but for the most part it's an extremely standard example of an early talkie. The characters talk at great length with great speed and have use period-appropriate idioms, but the somewhat convoluted conflicts that arise between each of the characters does little to engage beyond a vague sympathy for both leads (which is less because of anything specific about them than because of a general desire to see them survive in this vicious racket). None of the actual songs stand out one way or the other either. My ratings for films that I consider "boring" but not genuinely awful tend to see-saw between one-and-a-half popcorn boxes and two popcorn boxes; here, I think that it might as well get the lesser rating. Just because a film doesn't engender any hatred doesn't automatically mean that I like it either, so it's difficult to recommend this to anyone who's not already genuinely interested in musicals (my own interest is pretty...inconsistent, so take my words with a grain of salt) or completionists looking to watch every Best Picture winner, though in the latter case my recommendation or lack thereof would be irrelevant.

I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.
Iro's Top 100 Movies v3.0

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#570 - Footlight Parade
Lloyd Bacon, 1933

When talking pictures start to replace live performances as the most popular form of entertainment, a producer must come up with a variety of live musical numbers to play in the same theatres.

Old musicals are lightweight enough that one can spin an entire plot out of a spot of situational irony. The studio's decision to make a talking picture based around theatrical companies struggling to adjust to the popularity of talking pictures seems like a rather mean-spirited one, but if that's what it takes to literally get the show on the road then so be it. The production, which is being overseen by James Cagney's director-turned-producer (coincidentally, I think this is the first Cagney picture I've actually seen - great start, huh?), has to come up with a number of "prologues" to play before movies. He cooks up a scheme to create several performances to play at each of his business partners' theatres, but of course creating these performances consists of its own variety of problems with the complex collection of relationships that form behind the scenes between various members of the company.

As far as musicals go (especially the old ones), I definitely prefer the dancing to the singing and can respect both the dedication and visual flair that goes into bringing them to life. The songs I can more or less do without - as long as they aren't memorably bad or annoying then I can always just tune them out. Footlight Parade uses legendary musical director Busby Berkeley for its numbers and the extremely loose narrative framework allows for a variety of numbers as the company goes from theatre to theatre. There are some passable character arcs being put into place, the most memorable of which involves Cagney being oblivious the affections of his secretary (Joan Blondell) as well as that of another secretary (Ruby Keeler) and her own dream of being a dancer. These interpersonal dynamics feed into the climatic numbers themselves, which vary a bit in terms of quality. The "Honeymoon Hotel" sequence is staged well but the song is kind of annoying, while the "Shanghai Lil" sequence at least offers a decent song to go along with its dive-bar dancing. That's without mentioning what is probably the most memorable sequence, "By A Waterfall", which involves a lot of elaborate aquatic choreography that results in some fairly impressive imagery. Of course, that still means sitting through some rather average 1930s dramedy, but overall this is still fairly decent as far as old-school musicals go.

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#571 - Stagecoach
John Ford, 1939

A stagecoach carrying a varied collection of individuals from one frontier town to another runs into trouble.

Stagecoach has a somewhat intimidating reputation as one of the greatest early Westerns and is a generally well-made film full stop (I remember reading somewhere that Orson Welles watched Stagecoach multiple times in preparation for filming Citizen Kane, which sounds like testament enough to its own quality as a film). At the very least, it's got a solid high concept that allows for good character-based drama thanks to the mismatched ensemble that board a stagecoach going from one town to another. In addition to the sheepish driver and the grizzled sheriff riding shotgun, the passengers include an army wife looking to reunite with her husband, a sex worker getting run out of town by the local temperance league, an alcoholic doctor, a timid whiskey salesman, a Southern gambler, and a banker going on the run after embezzling thousands of dollars from his branch. Along the way, they pick up an outlaw who is searching for the man that killed his father and brother. Oh, and with this being an old Western there is also the looming threat of a tribe of Native Americans threatening to descend upon anything that comes through their territory, and guess where the stagecoach is headed...

While Stagecoach doesn't quite feel like an absolute classic, it definitely has enough quality to it to live up to most of its reputation. The characters may be somewhat broad and the performances certainly play to that broadness for better or worse. A good example of the former is Thomas Mitchell's scenery-chewing performance as the alcoholic doctor who is very quick to befriend the whiskey vendor and blithely talk his way around any complication, albeit a character who is sensible enough to give up when things are truly perilous for the group. John Wayne, here playing the vengeful outlaw, displays his usual potent combination of swagger and bravado but still makes for a halfway convincing romantic partner with Claire Trevor's scarlet woman (though that's more likely to do with how quickly things progress during the film's extremely compressed timeframe). The interplay between the characters is also solid, especially when the safety of the group is threatened by circumstances such as being forced to hole up inside an abandoned outpost or actual Natives launching their attacks. Even in the quieter moments, there are good instances of friction such as the strained relationship between Trevor and Louise Pratt's extremely prim and proper army wife. Cramming together disparate personalities and seeing them bounce off each other isn't always as much of a guarantee of dramatic fireworks as you would expect, but the characters in Stagecoach are developed well enough both individually and together to make it all work, enough so that it becomes the film's main strength more so than the expectation of any external action being visited upon or perpetuated by the main characters.

That isn't to say that Stagecoach lacks good action. It's certainly got its moments, though I could question its pacing a bit - one sequence late in the film feels so thoroughly climatic that when it finished I was initially surprised to see that the movie was still going and had consciously remind myself that, yes, there were still plenty of plot strands that needed resolution. The film's actual resolution may be slightly more low-key but it's still engaging and concludes the film with an impressive economy of storytelling. Now that I think about, "impressive economy of storytelling" would be a good way of summing up what makes Stagecoach good. It has a theatrical premise and its cast plays into that nicely, providing good characters that can be rooted for or against to various degrees. Though the film doesn't try to humanise the villainous Natives, it at least offers a somewhat decent justification by having their presence foreshadowed by a member of a different tribe with whom they have a bitter rivalry - again, another instance of economic storytelling that offers a simple but effective explanation for the film's seemingly unfair treatment of Natives. It's also technically competent and appropriately devoid of flashiness (albeit with the occasional impressive stunt or technique). I can definitely vouch for it as a classic Western that deserves to be seen even if your tastes don't lean towards Westerns.

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#572 - My Darling Clementine
John Ford, 1946

A marshall turned cattle drover is forced to take action when he enters a lawless frontier town and has to do battle with both its contentious doctor and a group of cattle rustlers.

Though I'd already seen Tombstone and therefore had a fair bit of familiarity with the real-life exploits of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (albeit filtered through the sensibilities of a 1990s Western), My Darline Clementine still deserves some consideration on the basis of it being Western legend Ford's interpretation of events. Henry Fonda and Victor Mature play Earp and Holliday respectively, with the former initially looking to do nothing more than do some cattle droving with his brothers. When one of his brothers is murdered and the cattle is stolen, Earp is forced to take on the role of marshall in the nearby town of Tombstone, which is so incredibly lawless that the current marshall and his deputies are unwilling to do their job right. The job also puts him in conflict with Holliday, a surgeon turned gambler who rules over the local saloon but is afflicted with consumption. Though he immediately butts heads with Earp, the two gradually form an unlikely friendship even in the face of obstacles such as a family of vicious cattle drovers or the complex romantic quandary that forms when Holliday's ex (Cathy Downs, the "Clementine" of the title) and present paramour (Linda Darnell) come into conflict with one another.

Fonda naturally makes for a handsome and affable hero who still has enough emotional vulnerability to make him feel well-rounded, while Mature's off-kilter screen presence (which makes me think of an uncanny and less charismatic version of Dean Martin) makes him a decent choice of actor to play the perpetually inebriated and sickly Holliday (though it'll probably never overtake Val Kilmer's twanging drawl in my memory). The cast is stacked with dependable character actors, while Downs and Darnell get decent enough subplots so that the film doesn't feel like it hits a brick wall whenever it decides to draw attention to them. The film does have the odd moment when it does slow down a bit too hard for its own good, such as one scene involving a traveling actor drunkenly reciting Shakespeare. However, the film's dud moments are more than compensated for by Ford's technical abilities, which do become important when the film opts to add some external action, especially during the third act. The finale is definitely a major point in the film's favour, and though I'm not entirely sold on it being a genuinely classic film, there's plenty going on that makes me think of it favourably.

#570 - Footlight Parade
Lloyd Bacon, 1933

I love a Busby Berkley movie
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

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I love a Busby Berkley movie
They're alright, just not really my thing.

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#573 - The Great Train Robbery
Edwin S. Porter, 1903

A gang of outlaws perform a robbery on a train.

A simple summary, but it's to be expected for The Great Train Robbery, which only runs for about ten to fifteen minutes and, being released in 1903, is probably the oldest film I've watched as of writing. The extreme age does mean that a lot of the storytelling methods common to peak silent films are conspicuously absent - there are no title cards to fill in the blanks caused by the lack of audible dialogue, so of course you have to pay extra attention to every minute mannerism of the characters in order to piece together every single little thing that happens. Of course, thanks to the overall simplicity of the narrative it's easy enough to follow along for the most part and even if you do happen to lose the thread of the plot then you can pick it back up quickly enough. On a technical level, you can definitely respect the effort involved and it's still interesting to see how the conflict resolves itself (even if it does involve the odd chuckle at some characters' overwrought death throes). The photography doesn't try anything too fanciful for the most part, with the decision to colorise several characters' costumes providing an interesting (if rough-looking) aesthetic choice.

When it comes to films that are this old, I'm not sure exactly how much they can be sincerely enjoyed; as a result, I can at least recognise The Great Train Robbery as an important film that should be seen by anyone with an interest in film. Due to the limitations of the era, there's not exactly a lot of depth to the film but there doesn't really need to be when it's so brief. Unfortunately, that does seem to preclude any serious replay value, unless you were to try to figure out the minor yet ultimately inessential details of the plot. Still, it's short enough that you might as well give it a shot. At the very least, it's worth it to see that iconic final image.

Master of My Domain
I have a way more positive view of Stagecoach than you do, (I wrote a review on it btw), but at least you gave it a fairly appropriate rating and commented on the stuff I like about the film.

Really need to get to The Great Train Robbery.

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#574 - The Story of the Kelly Gang
Charles Tait, 1906

Based on the true story of Australian bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang of outlaws.

Originally, The Story of the Kelly Gang marked the first feature-length film ever made, clocking in at a sizeable seventy minutes. Unfortunately, due to the lack of preservation that led to many films being damaged or destroyed during the first few decades of cinema's existence, the most current version of the film amounts to a mere seventeen minutes. Even in this abridged form, The Story of the Kelly Gang still covers the core details of the narrative surrounding Australia's most famous outlaw, showcasing Kelly and the three other members of the gang as they proceed to fight back against the police, who are naturally shown to be corrupt (with one of the earliest scenes in the restoration showcasing a constable making unwanted advances on Kelly's sister) while they carry out their own merry crime spree that mainly involves various different types of robbery with instances of murdering of policemen (and one instance of killing an associate turned informant). Things inevitably climax with the notorious siege on the Glenrowan Inn as the gang make their infamous last stand complete with Kelly donning his iconic suit of armour. The restoration ends with a wounded Kelly being captured by the police.

As with The Great Train Robbery, it's hard to know how much one can truly judge a film as old as The Story of the Kelly Gang, especially when circumstances have reduced it to a quarter of its original length (and the film's final moments are plagued by significant chemical damage to the film stock, rendering the climax difficult to watch through the bubbling and distortion). Of course, I was able to look past that (if nothing else, the film stock's distortion actually looks compelling in its own right), but in trying to tell a wide-ranging story despite the limitations of the medium the film actually ends up being kind of boring. The most complete sequence in the film details the gang holding up the occupants of a train station (as well as a hapless wagon-rider who stumbles upon the scene), which is a problem when said sequence is rather lacking in terms of excitement or tension and thus feels much longer than what seems necessary. That's definitely a strike against the film, though the rest of it is reasonably taut and well-paced; there are some nice stylistic choices, such as the decision to use a red filter for the moments after the police decide to set fire to the Glenrowan Inn in order to smoke out the gang. The Story of the Kelly Gang definitely suffers for having the bulk of its content go missing, as what is left is inconsistent in terms of quality and makes for a fairly slow watch even for a piece of work that runs less than twenty minutes. Worth watching for the historical importance, but not exactly worth it beyond that.

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#575 - The Invaders
Francis Ford and Thomas H. Ince, 1912

The peace treaty between white U.S. soldiers and the Sioux native population is threatened by the unexpected appearance of railroad surveyors.

For a forty-minute film that came out in 1912, The Invaders is interesting because of the relative amount of complexity that it offers. Decades before Native Americans became a simplistic go-to antagonist in many Golden Age Westerns, this extremely brief film was able to weave an interesting story about the high-tension convergence of three separate groups; the white American soldiers, the Sioux with whom they sign a tentative peace treaty, and the Cheyenne who opt to cause mayhem for both those groups. The fragile peace between white and Sioux is threatened when a railroad company insists on sending surveyors onto Sioux land, which is naturally treated as an unwelcome imposition despite one of the surveyors having a forbidden romance unfold with the Sioux chief's daughter. Things are also further complicated by the white general's daughter having her own dalliance with one of her father's subordinates. Unfortunately, the implications of these affairs only serves to exacerbate the uneasy relations between native and colonial and soon violence unfolds between both (or all) sides.

There's something to be said for the ambition involved with trying to tell such a complex story within the space of about forty minutes, especially when the film eschews dialogue-based intertitles in favour of some erratically placed title cards that mainly serve the same purpose as chapter headings. Creating a nuanced and sympathetic treatment of both Native American tribes and the members of them is also an impressive move (though the "good" Sioux get far more development in that regard than the "bad" Cheyenne, but points for effort nonetheless). The production design and cinematography are also solid as well, as well as the scenes that actually involve some fighting between the groups. I'm not sure if it's good enough to warrant being thought of as a true classic - I certainly hadn't heard of it until I saw it on a thematic triple bill with The Great Train Robbery and The Story of the Kelly Gang - but it holds up pretty well and is worth checking out if you have more than a passing interest in silent film.

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#576 - The Proposition
John Hillcoat, 2005

A captured outlaw is offered the chance to earn a pardon for himself and for his younger brother if he ventures into the outback and kills his older brother.

The Proposition provides an incredibly bleak and bloody take on bushranger mythology in the second (and arguably best) collaboration between director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave. The duo's dark sensibilities combine in service of a morally grey tale set in the 19th-century outback that centres on three Irish brothers (Danny Huston, Guy Pearce, and Richard Wilson) who are all noted outlaws. The film begins with Pearce and Wilson being arrested by the local troopers, whose English captain (Ray Winstone) secretly offers them the chance to be pardoned if Pearce can track down and kill Huston, who has separated from his brothers and is hiding out somewhere in the wilderness. This gives Pearce a fairly simple journey to go on that is naturally fraught with all sorts of complications long before he even gets close to Huston. Meanwhile, Winstone has to deal with a number of problems on the home front, the most notable of which include trying to cultivate a quiet home life with his sheltered wife (Emily Watson) and dealing with the consequences of his proposition when his sharply-dressed superior (David Wenham) arrives in town.

Acclaimed musician Cave translates the same bloody-minded fascination with the depth and breadth of the human condition that characterised much of his most well-respected music. There is nothing about this film that could be considered romanticised; the closest it gets is the entire sub-plot about Winstone and Watson trying their best to replicate their old English lifestyle in a remote farmhouse, and even then it is still tinged with tension as the demands of Winstone's job take a greater and greater toll on the household. Otherwise, the unflinching portrayal of the Australian outback and the individuals that reside there is enough to remind me favourably of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian (which I had read at some point between this viewing and my last one). Pearce's objective seems simple, but the obstacles are frequent and generate a constant slow-burning tension; the most obvious example is when he stumbles upon an abandoned outpost occupied by a dead publican and a drunken old adventurer (John Hurt). Though the scenes that follow Pearce's misadventure-filled A-plot are more often than not the most compelling ones in the film, the B-plot concerning Winstone and the other townsfolk is fortunately solid enough for the scenes dedicated to it to not feel like filler; arguably, the most unforgettably brutal moment in the film takes place in the town square. Despite the ways in which the film will frequently linger on details great and small, be it long shots of characters silhouetted against orange horizons or a close-up of blood being squeezed out of a cat-o'-nine-tails, the film never truly seems to drag as it keeps moving towards its inexorable conclusion.

There is an impressive ensemble of actors from both Britain and Australia that serve to make The Proposition more than just another slow and violent Western. Pearce makes for an appropriately stoic and largely amoral protagonist whose overriding concern for the welfare of his younger brother proves to be much more of a motivation than the promise of his freedom; as a result, his conflicted performance is good enough to overcome any slippage of his Irish accent. Huston makes for a good antagonist behind his filthy appearance and affably philosophical demeanour, which does make him a more interesting threat than if he was just another raving lunatic (unfortunately, Tom Budge gets stuck playing said lunatic in his role as Huston's wild-eyed offsider and doesn't quite sell it). Heavyweight character actor Winstone gets a fairly challenging role as he has to constantly swap between being the hard-bitten captain of the guard and a sensitive husband, the balance between which is managed by his unwavering dedication to "civilising the land" defining both sides of his character.

As one of only two female characters granted any narrative significance (the other being Leah Purcell as a member of Huston's gang, who does well with a part that is admittedly rather minor and underdeveloped), Watson gets a decent enough part that serves to accentuate the contrast between the ideal of English civility and the nadir of Australian cruelty; though she mainly serves as a highly-strung embodiment of the former, this does lead to her embracing the latter out of a vengeful desire for retribution against the lead trio. Even seemingly minor parts get strong performances - Hurt appears in only two scenes but he brings enough mad-eyed theatricality and darkly inappropriate humour to his few minutes of screen-time that he threatens to steal the whole show, while Wenham makes the most of having to play a very love-to-hate bureaucrat complete with snooty delivery and handlebar moustache. Credit also has to go to veteran indigenous actor David Gulpilil as the troopers' resident tracker who gets in some clever jabs at his white superiors, while Tom E. Lewis gets to channel his most famous role as an outlaw whose vicious nature makes him play out like an older and much more embittered version of Jimmie Blacksmith.

As far as technique goes...that's where things get a little flawed. Despite Cave's considerable reputation as a musician who has blended many different styles to great success over the course of the past few decades, I actually find his score (co-written with Warren Ellis, a member of the Bad Seeds and Cave's frequent collaborator on film scores) to be the weakest aspect of the whole film. The lilting children's song that begins the film becomes a leitmotif that plays over any scenes set on the home front and is thus liable to become annoying, while the music that plays as Pearce heads further into the outback isn't much better; though it is mainly minimal and instrumental, instances of Cave whispering or roaring the same lines of poetry tend to come across as distracting rather than complementary. Otherwise, the cinematography is a treat as it captures everything with clarity, moving fluidly between static landscape shots and intense close-ups. Between that and the editing, there is enough going on to make the film become rather bizarre in some instances, especially with the occasional disorienting shock being deployed as a result. These factors contribute to making a film that is not without its flaws but still has enough strengths to earn a reputation as one of the best Australian films of recent years. It's violent without being gratuitous and gives us a cast of generally well-written and well-acted characters whose actions or lack thereof pose some significant moral quandaries in the name of lofty goals such as peacekeeping and civilisation - when they're not being bloodthirsty agents of carnage, of course. Definitely recommended.

The Proposition is a film I barely remember anything of. I remember thinking it was ok, but it's a palette I've never been comfortable with, which is one reason why I don't like Westerns.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

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#577 - Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino, 2012

In pre-Civil War America, a bounty hunter teams up with a former slave in order to find and free the former slave's wife.

If I were to describe Django Unchained in one word, it would be "safe". This is not to say that it is a fundamentally bad film, but considering how Tarantino originally built his reputation as a filmmaker on being a consistently shocking and surprising filmmaker I can't help but feel like this is kind of a let-down. Granted, this isn't the first time that one of his films failed to live up to his considerably high standard - the pulpy B-movie throwback of Death Proof doesn't have a whole lot of stand-alone appeal and I would definitely rank it as his worst film (though I do have half a mind to revisit it). If Django Unchained had been his next film after that, it would have been a good film and a promise that Tarantino was getting back on track to make another masterpiece. Unfortunately, Inglourious Basterds arrived and proved a consistently unpredictable piece of work buoyed by strong performances and several impressively taut sequences (although it did run a little long). While Django Unchained doesn't lack for running time or general craftsmanship, in many respects it feels like a backwards step for Tarantino.

The plot is relatively simple; one cold, dark night a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) encounters a group of slaves being driven through the wilderness and selects one (Jamie Foxx) because he is the only one who can identify a trio of highly lucrative targets for him. After legally acquiring Foxx (and allowing the slave-masters to meet appropriately grisly demises in the process), Waltz opts to free him after he helps out with tracking down the original three targets. Foxx takes to bounty-hunting with considerable ease; however, he mainly plans to use his newfound freedom in order to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington), who is a slave on one of the most notoriously sadistic plantations in Mississippi. To this end, Waltz and Foxx concoct a scheme that will allow them to persuade the plantation's owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) to let them "own" Washington, but of course things are never that simple. All things considered, it is a fairly straightforward plot and Tarantino has done more with less - he did wring a four-hour epic out of an incredibly simple revenge storyline with Kill Bill, after all - but his typically episodic style of narrative structure clashes with his intention to recreate the sprawling Western epics that he grew up watching. It's enough to make the film as a whole feel strangely directionless despite its basic rescue-revenge story; the listless drifting is enough to make one feel especially fatigued even before the film reaches its final half-hour.

Fortunately, the film's less-than-stellar storyline is anchored by Waltz and Foxx sharing a fairly strong odd-couple dynamic throughout the whole thing. In Inglourious Basterds, Waltz stole the show as an effortlessly charming and clever Nazi investigator; it is that same sense of charisma that translates to his vastly different role in Django Unchained as a bounty hunter with a strong (albeit imperfect) sense of personal ethics. He has to be an effervescent character in order to carry Foxx, whose character has to take some time to grow from traumatised slave to angel of vengeance. His quiet demeanour soon gives way to a calm yet acidic tone that makes the ideal counter-point to Waltz's extremely friendly mannerisms. Other characters vary in terms of ability and effectiveness; Washington is decent enough even though her role basically does extend to being a damsel in distress. Despite the sheer amount of effort that DiCaprio puts into his role (if nothing else, him being able to act through having his hand actually get slashed open in one scene is admittedly impressive), I just can't take him seriously. Though his character is supposed to be a gleefully sadistic racist, he never convincingly makes the transition from ridiculous caricature to genuine threat - and that's without getting into his overwrought Southern accent and lapsing into the sort of vein-popping yelling that pops up in enough of his roles to make his relative lack of range apparent. At least his scenes are supported by the presence of semi-regular Tarantino collaborator Samuel L. Jackson, whose turn as DiCaprio's head slave has considerable depth beneath a surface that initially seems to be little more than an extremely racist stereotype.

Though the issues with plot and characterisation do ultimately prevent Django Unchained from becoming a major classic, it does well enough on a technical front. I'm really starting to take note of Robert Richardson as a cinematographer lately; his versatility with a variety of cinematic styles makes him a perfect fit for Tarantino's trademark genre-blending as over-saturated colours and crash-zooms fit side-by-side with more traditional landscape shots. The soundtrack is naturally an eclectic and mostly anachronistic collection of pieces that work to varying degrees of effectiveness, though the best moments tend to not have any background music whatsoever. The action is decent, if not entirely up to Tarantino's best; at the very least, there is one sequence that is so exquisitely captured that it should serve as the film's climax (sadly it doesn't, thus leading to the film fading away more so than burning out). After at least two full viewings and at least one or two other partial viewings, I still have some hope that this will grow on me and become genuinely great rather than merely good. There is plenty to like about it, but all the strengths that this film has ultimately struggle to come together and form a cohesively strong piece of work.

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#578 - Django
Sergio Corbucci, 1966

A lone gunman becomes involved in a conflict that ranges between two groups of bandits as he seeks revenge against one gang's leader.

If that logline looks in any way familiar, it's because it does seem awfully similar to that of A Fistful of Dollars, another notable yet derivative spaghetti Western. Even though Django came out a mere two years after Leone's film it manages to provide enough distinction to at least make it a fairly worthwhile experience. A lot of that is down to the steely-eyed Franco Nero as the titular protagonist, who is distinguished right from the opening frames as he drags a coffin on a rope through the harsh desert before proceeding to rescue a courtesan from being tortured by bandits. Thus, he finds himself caught between two gangs, one made of American ex-militia members and the other made of Mexicans. Django has a score to settle with the leader of the American gang, but of course that quest for simple revenge is complicated by a tale involving not just the constantly-raging battle for victory between the two outfits but also the chance to acquire some gold in the process.

Like many an old genre film worth its salt, Django has a distinctive visual aesthetic that helps to carry its otherwise fairly standard plot. The grittiness common to all the best spaghetti Westerns is on full display here and definitely lends the film personality; this much is especially true considering how it manages to mimic A Fistful of Dollars but manages to induce even more cynicism from bitter beginning to a quick yet dramatic conclusion. The little tweaks, such as Django's coffin and his incredibly dramatic relationship with the woman he rescues, are nice ones but ultimately serve as window-dressing to a film that's not that bad so much as average. There are some good moments of action and suspense (the most memorable of which involves Django trying to sneak himself and his coffin out of a packed saloon), while the score involves some appropriately histrionic instrumentals and the iconic theme song (which I naturally recognised from its usage in Django Unchained - it seems like there's a fair bit of fun to be had in picking apart what Tarantino opted to appropriate from this film). Django is a good bet if you're into niche fare like this, but I'm hard-pressed to think of it as a classic in its own right. I would not be averse to re-watching it, of course, but even the various fun little aspects don't feel like enough to make it truly great.

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#579 - There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007

At the turn of the 20th century, a former miner works his way towards being a rich and powerful businessmen in the burgeoning oil industry.

Original review found here.

(Additional notes: this review is over seven years old by now and looks a little rough, but I'm not about to argue with the gist of it. Excellent film in just about every regard.)

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#580 - My Brilliant Career
Gillian Armstrong, 1979

In turn-of-the-century Australia, a young woman seeks to have both a career and personal independence but is confounded by other people's expectations of what kind of woman she should be.

My Brilliant Career could best be summarised as being an Australian take on Jane Austen. While it is not based on any actual Austen fare (instead being adapted from a novel by renowned Australian author Miles Franklin), the vibe is there thanks to the period trappings and the tale that deals in themes relating to independent womanhood. The film stars Judy Davis as a young woman whose personal goals vary greatly from what her family and the rest of society typically has in mind for young women of the era; while they would rather have her become a prim and proper wife and mother who is well-respected in the community, she has other ideas. Her main goal is to define herself, mainly by striking out on her own and having a career of her own (possibly in writing) rather than be forced to depend on any man that she may be forced to wed out of social grace. Though this goal is challenging enough thanks to the pressure put upon her, things are complicated somewhat when she feels some measure of reciprocity towards a local gentleman (Sam Neill) bestowing his attentions upon her.

The film is generally passable, with some decent cinematography and production design that is dedicated to preserving the setting; however, that's not enough to truly distract from how dry the whole film manages to be. Davis is a decent enough actress to build the film around, but she is pretty much the only performer of any serious note; even Neill can only do so much in his role as a roguish country boy who Davis sees as a possible compromise between her career goals and the repressive position that turn-of-the-century society has molded for her. Even with the film's extremely lean running time, the plot does seem to dither considerably and most of the characters generally don't do much to stand out favourably. My Brilliant Career is a respectable film, but it doesn't do all that much to hold up these days. It paints a pretty picture and its treatment of early-feminist politics through a relatively modern lens is worth noting, but it's hardly a film that I feel can be enjoyed or appreciated in depth.

Welcome to the human race...
#581 - Grand Hotel
Edmund Goulding, 1932

Follows the exploits of the staff and guests of a high-class German hotel.

For years, Grand Hotel seemed like an interesting prospect as far as early Hollywood films went. Set amidst the hustle and bustle of the Grand Hotel, the fanciest place to stay in Berlin, it promised a sufficiently compelling and complex film for the early days of talking pictures as it balanced a number of different plots and characters that intertwined and bounced off one another over the course of a feature film. There are quite a few plots running through the film that demand one's attention regardless of their significance, whether it's the seriously ill bureaucrat (Lionel Barrymore) opting to check himself in to spend his last days in style or the effervescent nobleman (John Barrymore) who is secretly a gentleman thief attempting to steal from a fellow guest. All of this takes place amidst a series of lavishly-designed sets that definitely put the "grand" in Grand Hotel and is captured with the level of dedication one would expect from early-'30s Hollywood.

When I did finally get around to watching Grand Hotel, I couldn't help but find the end result awfully boring for the most part. The film's status as an all-star vehicle is apparent from the opening credits, which opt to give fanciful title cards to all its most famous players. I do wonder if this is the first film to try using star power to compensate for any potential narrative weaknesses; as such, I genuinely struggle to remember what actually happens in the film. To be fair, the stars' presence plugs the gaps reasonably well; Greta Garbo always makes for a magnetic screen presence, which is clear though her role as the fading Russian ballerina whose fear of the future is assuaged somewhat by the arrival of John Barrymore (even after his plan to steal from her almost works). Other plots are serviceable but not genuinely good - Joan Crawford's turn as an aspiring performer earns some pathos, as does Lionel Barrymore's turn as a timid man only now learning what it is like to live. These are nice touches, but they fail to make for a fundamentally solid film. Grand Hotel deserves a modicum of respect, but there is little about its sumptuous melodrama that appeals even in a historical context. Star power may be the main strength of the film, and it is a strength that is not completely without merit, but it's not enough to seriously redeem the final product.

I can't deny or go against anything you say in your review of Django Unchained. It is Tarantino playing on all his instruments known to his style and it is something that ends up feeling like a safecard in his filmography - maybe even his least daring work in his filmography.

As a movie to be reviewed and analyzed in the general sense, it would come up short or at least land about where you put it. But for me, this film is like Tarantino delivering the perfect vision of pure fun entertainment in his eyes, while being a homage to westerns through and through. I have a hard time not surrendering to this film, simply because it is so much fun in my opinion. The first half is better than the second and the story is fragmented and all, but I mainly enjoy it so much because it's just a fun movie... Also the best time I ever had at the cinemas and to this day the only movie I ever paid twice to go see... That said, it's also the only QT film I ever had the chance to see on the big screen, but nevertheless, what an experience.

It looks like The Hateful Eight will be a throwback to Reservoir Dogs and a retelling of his style in Django Unchained. But I do hope it will be a little more daring, though I doubt it.

From this page i've only seen TWBB and Stagecoach, great review of the latter and glad to see you like TWBB so much. I'm going to read the review you linked in a second so expect rough seven year old rep.

As much as i enjoyed the 60s countdown, i think this is clearly the best thread this year, actually i think this is the best thread i have seen here overall. Your effort and consistency has been pretty astonishing, i'm surprised you haven't just posted "yeah that was good" reviews at this point . I'll need to set aside some time to go through all of this as i've clearly missed a ton of movies i've seen and everything i've read has been well thought out and interesting whether i agreed with your view or not.