Monday, April 14, 2008

Courtroom Drama: The Verdict

A seriously bleak, but ultimately inspirational lawyer pic with an outstanding performance from it's lead actor. Paul Newman has played many roles, and of those many roles, he played lower class men, such as in Cool Hand Luke, but never has he played a role with so much deepness and conviction. He plays the ambulance-chasing, alcoholic pinball wizard lawyer Frank Galvin, who is getting more and more pathetic as he loses more and more confidence in himself. He has gone on a streak of losses, and he has never recovered. When he gets a malpractice case involving a misuse of anesthesia, he decides to take it to court instead of taking the $210,000 that the hospital is willing to settle for. This goes awry at the beginning, as his trial plan he had fell to pieces after his main witness was paid off by the opposing side. But after some tactical thinking, he becomes the lawyer he once was. This character is so incredibly deep that I could say he is one of the best lawyer characters in cinema. You feel more engaged with him than you do with even ol' Atticus Finch, from the critically acclaimed and overrated To Kill a Mockingbird. To talk about the the movie, I wouldn't say it is the strongest law flick I've seen (Twelve Angry Men is the best), but it is in the Top 5, maybe in the Top 3. The movie's strong point is the acting, starting with Newman's masterpiece performance, and with Charlotte Rampling's performance of the film's Judas in the form of the driving Laura, and what I would call a solid performance from James Mason as the opposing lawyer. The directing, by now-83-year-old genius Sidney Lumet, is great. This movie is a great piece of filmmaking and deserves a spot on the AFI 100 in place of such mediocre pics as Toy Story because it knows depth well and uses it easily to its advantage. The verdict: guilty of greatness. A

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Free Bird: The Maltese Falcon

A good film noir is absolutely ruined by a dragging 25 minute climax. Humphrey Bogart manages to elicit a few grins as Sam Spade, a private eye working in San Francisco (all of this city is wasted in a few stereotypical shots). At the beginning, Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) brings to Sam a case that has to do with shadowing a man. After Sam's partner is killed by the man he's following, things start to go strangely. To top that off, a man named Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) asks him to find the title bird. Co-starring are Sydney Greenstreet as a crooked guy going after the falcon, and Ward Bond, as a detective. The problems with this movie start with the comparisons. Humphrey Bogart as the leading man is about even with Jack Nicholson or Fred MacMurray in Chinatown or Double Indemnity, respectably, but Mary Astor is definitely not as good as the powerhouse actresses Faye Dunaway and Barbara Stanwyck. To sum it all up, Chinatown and Double Indemnity are much better pictures. Another problem with this movie, and possibly the biggest: the terrible climax. At approximately 75 minutes into the movie, Spade is trapped in his own apartment by Astor, Cairo, and Greenstreet. This scene is full of no action, no fireworks. As a matter of fact, it had nothing the scene needed. This might even be the reason that Bogart wasn't nominated for an Academy Award: no great final scene that sets the movie in your mind. Maybe if there had been, and this movie had been more legendary, then maybe Bogart might have even taken Best Actor. Why Greenstreet got nominated is beyond me: a lackluster performance. Anyways, the climax of the climax is that the bird that Bogart has is a fake, and no one knows where the real one is. Actually, to tell you the truth, the whole thing is a hoax. This makes the whole movie seem pointless. The ending: Bogart turns Astor in, and the last conversation between the two is pretty mediocre. To summarize the scene: terrible way to end a classic. Bottom line on the whole movie: decent acting, good suspense, no huge frills, and no memorable scene. B+

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Male Fraud: Tootsie

In the tradition of such amazing movies like Some Like It Hot, this is a classic, very funny cross-dressing comedy about acting and how much someone would go to pursue it. Dustin Hoffman is Michael Dorsey, a down-and-out actor living in New York City. His big break comes when he decides to audition for a soap opera as a woman. This proves for some huge laughs, but the humor grows tiresome after awhile as Hoffman's lady portrayal is great, but loses it's sauce. Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, and Dabney Coleman provide good support, but it is the director Sydney Pollack that pushes this movie over the hilarity barrier, with his historic scene-stealing role as Michaels' agent, with a great final scene that makes the movie come full circle. Witty screenwriting, Hoffman's good touch, Pollack's great touch in front and behind the camera, and the perfect amount of irony and comparison make this movie a film to remember. A