OCEAN WAVES. 1993, Tomomichi Mochizuki. 70min.
A made-for-TV film by Studio Ghibli, OCEAN WAVES retells the story of one man's search for love during his high school years as a student in rural Japan. A sweet coming of age story, the film features the high quality of Ghibli's animation to serve a fairly straightforward narrative, and the film benefits from the understated approach. While nothing groundbreaking, it's interesting to see such a story told through animation, where the characters are fairly ordinary people trying to make sense of themsevles and each other.
ON THE TOWN. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1949. 98min.
The main reason to see this film comes early as three sailors disembark for a day of shore leave in New York. The ensuing minutes are a romp through the sights of the city as Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin sing "New York, New York." Unfortunately, the music and musical numbers after that aren't quite as memorable (save for the ballet near the end that serves as a sort of Cliff's Notes to the film) and the plot, involving their searching for dates for the day, jumps from episode to episode. It's interesting to note however, how similar the film is in structure to Singin in the Rain (1952), also penned by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, starring Gene Kelly, and directed by Donen, from the timing in the jokes to the placement of musical numbers.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. 1968, Sergio Leone. 165 min.
An esquisitely beautifully rendered opening sequence that both builds suspense and adds humor to the waiting game that becomes a stakeout, this film stars Charles Bronson in the usual Clint Eastward role of the man-with-no-name. Brilliantly set in Monument Valley (comparisons abound with the, perhaps more beautifully shot THE SEARCHERS (John Ford, 1956), but a pan-and-scan rental precludes discussion on that point) during the time the railroad was quickly linking east with west, this tale of greed and revenge makes great use of the time period. The eventual showdown, however, left me wishing for more in the resolution of tension between Bronson and bad-guy Henry Fonda, but a rewarding experience nonetheless. 01.30.01
ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. 1939, Howard Hawks. 121 min.
Cary Grant stars as the owner of an airline delivering mail within the mountains of South America. Into this bastion of malehood is thrust Jean Arthur en route back home and the promise of love rears its head. An interesting study of men under duress and their cavalier attitude towards life and death, the film offers Arthur as our guide into their world. At first uncomprehending, Arthur falls for the seemingly heroic pilots and then begins to develop an understanding--both for the better and the worse. A taut little thriller, the ending seems a little too pat, and some of the plotting becomes stiff, but then again, this is in light of the overly slick hollywood product that's replaced such films as this. Hawks isn't afraid to let characterization take a bit more of a front seat, and so what could have been a slight potboiler becomes something more.
OCEAN'S 12. Steven Soderberg, 2004. 120min.
The cast of the original reunites for this sequel to the popular Ocean's 11, wherein they must pay back in spades the money that was stolen in the first film. Ultimately, the conclusion doesn't make much sense, and some things don't quite add up, but it's a stylish ride, though style cannot trump substance. The film lacks the snap of the first, and feels much longer than its two hour running time as plot twists emerge unexpectedly and characters behave in unexpected ways (paving the way for future twists, some obvious, some less so). It feels almost as if three scripts were written, and instead of deciding between them, the producers decided to film all three and edit them together. Fortunately, this being a sequel, they didn't have to waste time on character development, and the actors exhibit good chemistry. David Holmes contributes another funky fresh soundtrack. (n.b., There's a much better lazer beam avoidance heist scene--incorporating capoiera--than Entrapment, even if the scene doesn't star Zeta-Jones).
OPEN YOUR EYES. 1997, Alejandro Amenabar. 117min.
More than just a little bit of Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven) seeps its way into OPEN YOUR EYES, a film that tells the story of a man who suffers an accident which forever changes his life. Or does it? The twists and turns become almost dizzying until you realize the film is more science fiction than drama, and then there is no surprise when people start appearing out of nowhere to offer fantastic explanations of what's happening. Or is it? After a while, it doesn't really matter anymore, though the film does offer a fantastic Pirandello moment as a character within the questioned reality of the movie questions the validity of itself.
ORFEU NEGRO (aka BLACK ORPHEUS). Marcel Camus, 1959. 100min.
A beautiful but overly-long retelling of the myth of Orpheus, the film relies too much on the location and carnival that is celebrated there once a year, almost to the point of trying to use the exoticism of the locale to carry the film. As a 40 minute short film it could have been punchy and to the point. Unfortunately the story isn't quite up to the runtime, and my attention drifted. And while the snapshots of carnival are beautiful and interesting, I'd rather see a documentary of the carnival itself if I were to watch as many minutes of it as this film exhibits. 9.13.03