Movie #123: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, and Bruce Bennett

Academy Awards (1949):

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Walter Huston

Best Director: John Huston

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Motion Picture: Warner Bros.

Best Writing, Screenplay: John Huston

“Ah, as long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow… that’s when the trouble starts.”

Down on their luck Americans Fred Dobbs (Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Holt) search for work in Mexico in 1925.  They recruit Howard (Huston), an old-time prospector, to search for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains.

This film is an interesting character study on greed.  It’s interesting to see Bogart play a character so different from what he usually does.  He quickly gets paranoid and possessive at the first site of gold.  Though he’s not a character I cared for, his performance probably should have gotten him an Oscar nomination.  Huston’s Howard represents wisdom and experience, a real voice of reason.  Curtin, presumably younger than his fellow prospectors, waves back and forth in his loyalties within the group, and Holt gives a great performance in this at times conflicted character.

An interesting scene for me was when Curtin and Howard are discussing what they’ll do with the money they earn.  Each seems to have a good grasp of their lives after prospecting.  When Dobbs joins the conversation, though, he basically runs through all the vices and has no direction.  The contrast helps build the tension and distinguishes him from his fellow prospectors.

I also liked the pacing and balance of dramatic, comedic, and adventurous elements of the film.  Walter Huston gives an Oscar-worthy performance that has wisdom, sarcasm, and the moral compass the audience tends to follow when navigating a story like this.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was filmed largely on location in Mexico.  It also cost about 3 million dollars to make, a large sum at the time.  John Huston does a great job in filming with purpose.  There’s a good balance of long, wide shots, specifically when the Mexican gang approaches the group. I thought it was funny that the guys had a somewhat nonchalant attitude, knowing the gang was approaching but still taking time to eat some beans before the shootout began.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was entertaining and interesting to watch.  It’s been on my radar for a long time, and I’m glad I finally watched it.  I probably won’t see it again, but definitely recommend it.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Movie #121: The Sea Hawk (1940)

Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Alan Hale, Flora Robson

Academy Award Nominations (1941):

Best Art Direction: Anton Grot

Best Music, Scoring: Erich Wolfgang Korgold

Best Sound Recording: Warner Bros. Studio Sound Department, Nathan Levinson

Best Special Effects (Photographic Effects): Byron Haskin, Sound Effects by Nathan Levinson

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“Geoffrey Thorpe (Flynn), a buccaneer, is hired by Queen Elizabeth I (Robson) to nag the Spanish Armada. The Armada is waiting for the attack on England and Thorpe surprises them with attacks on their galleons where he shows his skills on the sword.” (from IMDB).

As a movie fan, I’m usually pretty easy to please.  In any film, even a terrible one, I try to find a redeeming and enjoyable quality.  Though I’m far more familiar with modern movies, this project (that I’ve apparently been on a very long break from) has expanded my horizons and helped me gain an appreciation for the different eras of film making.  Though I’ve seen a number of the major movies from Hollywood’s Golden Era, I would have never watched The Sea Hawk without doing this project.

The Sea Hawk is entertaining for its time.  The storytelling is good, there is a good balance of action and drama.  Dialogue is intentional and well placed.  There isn’t too much emphasis on the political elements or the action on the high seas.  The scenes in Queen Elizabeth’s court and aboard Thorpe’s ship complement each other and advance the story.  All the characters have their various charms, and the pacing worked.

Though I’m very limited on his work, it makes sense that this is probably one of Errol Flynn’s biggest roles.  He does a fine job of bringing out the various traits of his character.  He is calculated and reasonable in his action as a captain.  His character is beloved by his crew, dreaded by his enemies, and respected by his peers.  He also excels in his romantic involvement with Don Jose’s (Rains) niece Dona Maria (Marshall).  While the progression of their relationship is a bit cliché, it still works.

I came in with little expectation.  The pleasant surprise for me in this film was Flora Robson.  I’m familiar with Elizabeth I as a historical figure, and Robson’s performance was great because she demonstrates strength and reasonable judgement as a leader.  The scene where she puts the needs of her people ahead of what she personally believed was the best course of action as especially touching.  It was probably a combination of good writing, direction, and acting that made this scene stand out.

The Sea Hawk brought back Director Michael Curtiz, composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold and actors Flynn, Rains, and Alan Hale, a winning combination from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).  It’s been far too long since I’ve seen Robin Hood to make comparisons and contrasts between the two films, so all I can say is they found a formula that worked and so they kept it going.

Will I watch this one again? Probably not.

Am I glad I watched it? Yes.  The version I watched was the colorized version, so if I were to watch it again, it would be to see it in its original black and white format.

Would I recommend seeing it? Yes, as least once.

Best Picture Winners. Movie #117: Braveheart (1995)

Director: Mel Gibson

Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Brian Cox, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, David O’Hara, Brendan Gleeson and Agnus MacFadyen

Academy Awards (1996):

Best Cinematography: John Toll

Best Director: Mel Gibson

Best Makeup: Peter Frampton, Paul Pattison, Lois Burwell

Best Picture: Mel Gibson, Alan Ladd Jr., and Bruce Davey

Best Sound Effects Editing: Lon Bender, Per Hallberg

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Costume Design: Charles Knode

Best Film Editing: Steven Rosenblum

Best Music, Original Dramatic Score: James Horner

Best Sound: Andy Nelson, Scott Millan, Anna Behlmer, Brian Simmons

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Randall Wallace

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“It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom.”

In 1280,  King Edward “Longshanks” (Patrick McGoohan) of England claims the vacant Scottish throne for himself following the death of the Scottish king.  He kills a lot of the Scottish nobility, luring them under the guise of peace.  In the ensuing battles, Malcolm Wallace, a commoner, and his oldest son John are also killed.  William Wallace (Gibson), Malcolm’s other son, goes away to Italy with his Uncle Argyle Wallace (Brian Cox).  Returning 20 years later, he meets back up with childhood friend Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) and Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack), a girl he has always been in love with.

Longshanks had issued a decree of “Prima Nocte” where English noblemen with land rights in Scotland can have sex with a new bride on her wedding night.  Wallace and Murron marry in secret to avoid this.  Some time later, Murron attacks an English soldier who tries to rape her, leading the local magistrate to tie her up and slit her throat.

Wrong move dude.

An enraged Wallace kills the local garrison, magistrate included, and declares that the Scottish people will no longer be ruled by the English.  His growing army takes the fight to the English, while Robert the Bruce (Angus MacFayden) acts as a go between for Wallace with the feuding Scottish nobles.

Historical inaccuracies aside, this is a pretty entertaining movie that offers a little bit for everyone.  It is primarily an epic, but it mixes in drama, action, comedy and romance and kept me engaged throughout the 177 minutes of running time.  I’ve seen this film plenty of times, and though it’s one I can quote extensively, I tried to come into it with a clean slate.

The countryside shots are magnificent, and James Horner write a dazzling soundtrack that complements the film’s cinematography.  The battle sequences were impressive given the scope and scale involved with each one.  Though mildly gory by my standards, this one had just enough blood and guts to be believable.  The only thing about the battle sequences for me was how long they lasted.  I feel like they could have been shortened up a bit while still getting the same message and point across.

Given the scope and massive undertaking Braveheart was, it’s not all that surprising that the next time Gibson directed a movie was nine years later with Passion of the Christ.

"What will you do with that freedom?"

“What will you do with that freedom?”

In addition to an impressive directing job, Mel Gibson’s acting was well done.  He balances the conflict with the Scottish nobles, the English, and his own internal driving force following the murder of his beloved Murron.  His character is macho, but also intelligent, sensible, and at times humorous.  It’s hard for me to criticize his performance.  I think the fact that he directed the film helped enhance his performance on-screen.

" I have nothing. Men fight for me because if they do not, I throw them off my land and I starve their wives and children. Those men who bled the ground red at Falkirk fought for William Wallace. He fights for something that I never had."

“He fights for something that I never had.”

"The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."

“The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots.”

Both Angus MacFayden and Patrick McGoohan did great jobs as Robert the Bruce and King Edward I.  McGoohan’s villain is relentless, conniving, and to the point.  It was interesting to see how his character changed as time went by health-wise.  He’s a guy you just want to hate.

Bruce’s character is almost more interesting as a character study than anyone else in Braveheart.  The internal struggle as he battles between what’s expected of him as a Scottish nobleman contrasted with what he believes is right is something I’ve always found intriguing.  Some of the best scenes of the film, in my opinion, take place with him talking with his father.

Stephen (David O’Hara) and Hamish are great supporting characters.  Though Stephen is mostly there for comic relief, he has a few moments of genuine and honest concern with some of the decisions William made.  It was also interesting in seeing Hamish as he fought alongside his dad, Campbell (James Cosmo), and how their relationship grew through the film.

"Why do you help me?" "Because of the way you are looking at me now."

“Why do you help me?”
“Because of the way you are looking at me now.”

One thing that sets this movie apart from your run-of-the-mill epic is the underlying romantic influence on Wallace and his relationship with Murron and Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau).  William is the most vulnerable and realistic when he’s with each woman.  Though the romantic development at times seemed cliché, here it worked well and integrated into the story.

When one thinks of Braveheart: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take OUR FREEDOM!” and “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” comes to mind.  It’s more than just the battles and bloodshed.  A king trying to hold on to power, a noble son struggling with what’s most important, and a reluctant warrior carrying the burdens of a nation while coping with the loss of virtually everyone close to him all flow together to create an entertaining film worthy of the Best Picture Academy Award.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie #109: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Director: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Sala Baker, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Hugo Weaving, John Rhys-Davies Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

Academy Awards (2002):

Best Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie

Best Makeup: Peter Owen, Richard Taylor

Best Music, Original Score: Howard Shore

Best Visual Effects: Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook, Richard Taylor, Mark Stetson

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Ian McKellen

Best Art Direction: Grant Major, Dan Hennah

Best Costume Design: Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor

Best Director: Peter Jackson

Best Film Editing: John Gilbert

Best Music, Original Song: Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan

Best Picture: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Barrie M. Osborne

Best Sound: Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Gethin Creagh, Hammond Peek

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

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An ancient ring thought lost for centuries has been found, given to a Hobbit named Frodo (Wood).  When Gandalf (McKellen) discovers that this is the One Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron (Baker), Frodo must make an epic quest to the Cracks of Doom to destroy it. (via 501 Must-See Movies: Revised and Updated Edition, 2010)

This movie and trilogy is enjoyable, if you can handle Peter Jackson’s thorough storytelling.

One of the nice things about long films like this is the ability to develop a wide range of characters.  Jackson takes time weaving together the humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits as they unite in this epic quest.  Even though this film is 3 hours long, the pacing is very well done.  An unfortunate shortfall for a film like The Fellowship of the Ring, though, comes from the fact that it is the first in a series.  Much more time has to be devoted to introducing the massive ensemble cast.  It is necessary, but I felt like the first hour or so dragged on.  Once Frodo and company left the Shire, this wasn’t a problem.

"I am sorry I brought this upon you, my boy. I'm sorry that... you must carry this burden. I'm sorry for everything."

“I am sorry I brought this upon you, my boy. I’m sorry that… you must carry this burden. I’m sorry for everything.”

I especially like the battle and struggle between good and evil.  Even the nicest or best intentioned person could become a monster once the Ring enters the picture.  That tension and suspense was engaging, and the candid nature of many of the characters helped define how a person could be corrupted or redeemed, among others.  The exchange between Frodo and Galadriel (Blanchett) was especially powerful in demonstrating the Ring’s power to corrupt.

I found it was appropriate to cast Sean Bean as Boromir (the guy that dies).  I especially found his exchange with Aragon (Mortensen) at the end of the film.  Though he had fallen, he found redemption and humility in the end.

It doesn’t surprise me that Ian McKellen was nominated for an Academy Award.  This and the X-Men series are the only films I’ve seen him in, so at the time this movie came out I was still largely unfamiliar with him.  He does the wise old man part very well.  He balances a character of sound judgement, conviction, and a compassionate nature.

The visuals for this movie are absolutely stunning.  I watched it this time on a much bigger TV than I have in the past, which helped to enhance the movie experience.  The CGI was used well, and a number of the natural shorts were breathtaking.  Watching this trilogy makes me want to visit New Zealand.

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The Lord of the Rings trilogy has become the standard for modern epic films.  I never read nor plan on reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s series, but from what I have read Peter Jackson did the source material justice.  He weaves together a variety of characters in a massive adventure that takes over 9 hours (theatrical version) to tell.  The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring introduces this massive ensemble and lays the groundwork for two more films that explore the struggle between good and evil and once humble hobbit who will determine the fate of Middle Earth.

My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars.

Movie #95: 300 (2007)

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, and Rodrigo Santoro

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In 450 BC at the Battle of Thermopylae, 300 Spartans, along with other Greek soldiers, led by King Leonidas (Butler) fight the invading Persian army led by the King Xerxes (Santoro).  Narrated by Spartan soldier Dilios (Wenham), the Greeks ward off the Persians for three days.

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“You bring the crowns and heads of conquered kings to my city steps. You insult my queen. You threaten my people with slavery and death! Oh, I’ve chosen my words carefully, Persian. Perhaps you should have done the same!”

Oh my goodness where do I start with this movie?  Shot entirely in front of a green screen so the filmmakers could create the mythical mysterious darker look similar to the graphic novel the film is based on, 300 portrays a romanticized version of one of the most well-known battles in ancient history.

I can now say I’ve watched this film twice.  Once in the theater, and again now.  I really didn’t care for it when it came out, this time it was a little more tolerable.  There are a number of things I enjoyed about this film, but at the end of the day, it’s men fighting each other, saying and doing macho things.

The narrative aspects of a movie like this can go a long way in making or breaking the film.  I think Snyder does a good job of incorporating Dilios’ narration of the events leading up to and during the battle.  David Wenham has a good narrative voice, and having proven his acting abilities in this type of film with his portrayal of Faramir in the Lord of the Rings series, he was a good casting decision for this role.

King Leonidas and Xerxes in 300

This was probably one of Gerard Butler’s best performances.  I’ve seen a handful or so of his films, and 300 is probably his most successful one at the box office.  He’s unforgiving and unwavering in his loyalty to Sparta and Greece, a strong leader.  However, the grizzled voice he uses when addressing his men got really old really fast.  Rodrigo Santoro does great as Xerxes in contrast to Butler’s Leonidas, using an army of sheer numbers and quantity compared to the Spartan quality of soldiers.  The pampered contrasting the gritty realist.

The darker tone used throughout the film added to the mystique and gave the film a nice ancient feel to it.  Though I thought the film relied way too much on special effects, this is one aspect of the film that I think was done right.

300 is a film that requires very little thought and relies heavily on the beat-your-chest-to-feel-like-a-man mentality.  The way it is shot and the heavy reliance on battle scenes and war make it perfect for teenage boys, both literal and figurative.  I found it enjoyable at the end of a long few days as a way to unwind and not have to over analyze what I’m watching.  I’m still up in the air as to seeing 300: Rise of an Empire in theaters, though I’ll probably settle for a matinée.

Would I recommend 300?  If you’re a teenage boy or need to have a popcorn/requires nothing of the audience movie, absolutely.  Other than that, find something else.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie #93: The Last Emperor (1987)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, and Tao Wu

Academy Awards (1988):

Best Picture: Jeremy Thomas

Best Art Direction: Ferdinando Scarfiotti, Bruno Cesari, Osvaldo Desideri

Best Cinematography: Vittorio Stararo

Best Costume Design: James Acheson

Best Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Best Film Editing: Gabriella Cristiani

Best Music, Original Score: Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, Cong Su

Best Sound: Bill Rowe, Ivan Sharrock

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Mark Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci

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Plot Summary: The story of the final Emperor of China. (IMDB.com)

Puyi (Wu/Lone) became the Emperor of China at age 3.  The Last Emperor begins in 1950 with Puyi’s transfer to a Chinese prison as a political prison and war criminal.  Exploring his life through a series of flashbacks, Puyi’s story unfolds through his ascension and abdication of the throne, his education with Reginald Johnston (O’Toole), his marriage to Wanrung (Chen), installation as Emperor of the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo, and capture by the Soviet Union.  Following his re-education, Puyi becomes a peasant gardener in Peking, and visiting the Forbidden City late in life.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching this film the two times I’ve now seen it.  Though it runs nearly three hours, the story engages me throughout and Bernardo Bertolucci uses the life of Puyi as the “prism through which to address a national’s history.”

The various actors who portray the Emperor do a great job of conveying each stage of life.  At age 3, Puyi continually asks when he can go home.  At age 8, his wet-nurse, and only real friend, is taken from him, and Tsou Tijger portrays the broken heart the young Emperor has over this loss.  Tijger also does well with the antics of an 8-year-old child who is denied nothing.  Tao Wu does great in expressing the conflicts and awkwardness of adolescence as Puyi gets married to an old girl who is 17.  All of these actors possess both the character traits of that particular age, but also the inner turmoil that exists with feeling like a prisoner in the Forbidden City.

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John Lone continues elements of the man who was Emperor, became a commoner, but keeps the desire to be ruler again.  It’s interesting to see how blinded by power he is to assume the role of puppet leader, despite the objections from virtually everyone in his inner circle.  Lone’s portrayal of Puyi from early adulthood to his final years is also commendable.  The progression through his re-education and eventual contentment as a gardener in Peking is interesting in contrast to the bratty spoil child his character started as.

The Last Emperor was filmed entirely in the People’s Republic of China.  It was also the first film that the Chinese government gave permission to film in the Forbidden City.  Though the city is composed of over 250 acres and 9,999 rooms, there is a balance of being both grand in scale and intimate in content by focusing on the life of Puyi.

the-last-emperorotoolePeter O’Toole does a great job in this film.  His character is both personable to Puyi while also being a realist and stern with the young Emperor.  As with many of his other characters, O’Toole’s demeanor and film presence gives a sense of professionalism and proper-ness.

The Last Emperor tells China’s history through the eyes of the final Emperor, Puyi, from the early to mid 20th century.  The grand scale of the film is made personable by looking at this history through Puyi’s perspective.  Though it’s not one I’ll probably go out of the way to see again, the historical content and engaging portrayal have made it enjoyable to me, and of course I’d recommend it.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie #83: Die Hard (1988)

Director: John McTiernan

Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Gleason, William Atherton, and Reginald VelJohnson

Academy Award Nominations (1989):

Best Effects-Sound Editing: Stephen H. Flick, Richard Shorr

Best Effects-Visual: Richard Edlund, Al DiSarro, Brent Boates, Thaine Morris

Best Film Editing: Frank J. Urioste, John F. Link

Best Sound: Don Bassman, Kevin F. Cleary, Richard Overton, Al Overton

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While visiting his wife Holly (Bedelia) at her company Christmas party in Los Angeles, New York City cop John McClane (Willis) becomes the only defense for Holly and her co-workers from a group of thieves led by Hans Gruber (Rickman).  Working with LAPD Sgt. Al Powell (VelJohnson) via radio, and at times against the local FBI officers, McClane takes down the thieves and saves the hostages.

Though this movie was huge for Bruce Willis, the real star of this movie is the building itself.  Die Hard is more or less a combination of Rambo and The Towering Inferno, and the various floors and parts of the skyscraper offer a variety of venues for great confrontations, explosions, and action sequences.  The four Academy Awards this movie was nominated for all have to do with effects, and in this particular movie the backdrop for those effects set it apart from other movies.

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What makes Alan Rickman a great villain is his ruthlessness and simple objective.  I liked that he wasn’t looking for world domination or something completely unrealistic.  For him it was all about the money, and nothing else.  The cat-and-mouse game he and McClane have throughout the movie were well-done and the adversarial chemistry the two have help make this movie work.

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Both Reginald VelJohnson and Bonnie Bedelia do great in their supporting roles.  They complement both Willis and Rickman in their respective roles.

This film established Bruce Willis as a reliable movie star who plays the bad-ass cop who doesn’t play by the rules and whose quick wit matches his action star capabilities.  Die Hard was one of his first film roles, with most of his prior experience being on the TV Show Moonlighting.  Though it’s a bit of a pitfall that Willis has more or less remained typecast in this particular role throughout his career, he does a convincing job of it.

It’s unfortunate that they decided to revive the Die Hard franchise with Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard.  As with many of these huge franchises, I wish Hollywood would just leave them alone.  I’ve seen Live Free, and while I thought it was decently made, I’ve skipped the most recent installment entirely.  It’s all about the money, and I suppose as long as people keep going to these remakes that pale in comparison to their predecessors, they’ll keep getting made.

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Die Hard is an entertaining film, plain and simple. Though there’s some of the conflict between McClane and his wife, McClane and Gruber, and Powell’s own internal demons, for the most part this summer blockbuster is about entertaining the audience.  The memorable one-liners and great action propelled this film to great success, four sequels, video games, and a comic book.  With this I’ve now seen Die HardDie Hard with a Vengence, and Live Free or Die Hard.  I’ll probably check out Die Hard 2 at some point, and will re-visit this movie when I need to shut my brain off for a couple of hours.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.