Rope Review

Rope movie poster

Synopsis
Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) host a dinner party after murdering a classmate.

Review
As I make my way through my Alfred Hitchock collection, I’m starting to get a feel for his directorial style and why he came to be known as the β€œMaster of Suspense.” Rope is the next stop on my journey and while it doesn’t overtake the previous film, Shadow of a Doubt, as my favorite, it does have merit to come close.

Hitchcock shows the audience immediately the murder committed by Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) as well as the pair hiding the body in a chest in their apartment. Because this act is literally the first scene of the film, there is no doubt about the character of Brandon and Phillip and what they are capable of. We also get a sense of their personalities and relationship from this early scene. So as the film goes on, the suspense continuously builds as their guests seemingly come closer and closer to discovering the hidden body. The tension kicks into high gear once Rupert (James Steward) becomes suspicious of the two boys. Once again, this film is suspenseful but in a different way than Hitchcock’s previous films I have seen so far, truly demonstrating his mastery over the genre.

What really adds to the suspense is the acting from Dall, Granger, and Stewart. All three of these actors did superbly in their parts. You get the sense that the dynamic between the two murderers is more than simple friendship and Dall and Granger sold that relationship. Dall brings a sense of superiority over everyone around him to his character. This brings him to verbally spar with his mentor, Stewart’s character. Stewart brings a calm demeanor that dovetails well with the snideness of Dall and the nervousness of Granger. When these three were together, particularly towards the end of the film, is when Rope excelled.

One of my favorite things Hitchcock did in this film was make it appear to be one continuous shot. Rope was adapted from the play by the same name and it feels like watching a play when watching this movie. The one-continuous-shot style has rarely been used over the decades but Rope was the first to make use of the technique, making Hitchcock a pioneer yet again. He was limited to 10 minute shots due to limitations of 35mm film at the time and it is easy to see where several of the transitions occurred but it doesn’t take away from the experience too much.

I don’t know how much of the dialogue was adopted from the original play but I found the dialogue of Rope to be very witty. Multiple innuendos were sprinkled throughout the film. It’s a small touch but it added a little bit of humor to an otherwise dark and serious film.

I thought Rope was GREAT πŸ˜€ As I watch more and more of Hitchcock’s films, I am learning that β€œsuspense” can be implemented in multiple ways. The suspense of Rope is different than the suspense in the previous Hitchcock films I have watched, which also have different types of suspense from each other. The trio of John Dall, Farley Granger, and James Stewart were fantastic, bringing the snappy dialogue to life. The quality from Hitchcock has been astounding and I cannot wait to see what happens next in my on my journey through my Hitchcock collection.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Director – Alfred Hitchcock
Hume Cronyn – Writer
Arthur Laurents – Screenplay
David Buttolph – Composer

John Dall – Brandon
Farley Granger – Phillip
Edith Evanson – Mrs. Wilson
Douglas Dick – Kenneth
Joan Chandler – Janet
Cedric Hardwicke – Mr. Kentley
Constance Collier – Mrs. Atwater
James Stewart – Rupert Cadell
Dick Hogan – David Kentley

Shadow of a Doubt Review

Shadow of a Doubt movie posterSynopsis
Charlie (Teresa Wright) gets suspicious that her uncle (Joseph Cotton) might be a murderer.

Review
This review contains slight spoilers.

Next up in my journey through my Alfred Hitchcock collection is Shadow of a Doubt. Hitchcock has said that this is his favorite film, so that is some high praise coming from the director himself! Of course, I didn’t know that when I started the film. I have been going into these films with as little knowledge beforehand as possible. Good thing to because Shadow of a Doubt is way more suspenseful if you don’t know what is going to happen in the film.

I know I’m only two films into my journey but an early trend I am seeing is Hitchcock had a knack for casting a fantastic leading pair. In Saboteur it was Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane. Now in Shadow of a Doubt it’s Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton. Cotton in particular was phenomenal. As the film progresses, we slowly see the dark side of his character, Charlie Oakley. Cotton’s descent into this darker persona is chilling and wonderfully executed. Teresa Wright, whose character is named after her Uncle Charlie, begins the film full of excitement and youthful energy when her uncle first arrives to visit. In the same way Cotton slowly descends into a darker character, Wright has a similar transformation, from naive child to realizing a hard truth about her uncle. And not only are these two great individually but they are also marvelous together.

Besides Cotton and Wright, there was an unexpectedly fun pairing of young Charlie’s father, Joseph, played by Henry Travers, and Joe’s best friend Herbie, played by Hume Cronyn. The friendly banter the two of them had throughout the film was funny and entertaining. It brought a sense of levity to an otherwise generally serious tone of the film.

In the beginning, you have no idea of who Uncle Charlie really is. The film does an excellent job of slowly unraveling the character while at the same time keeping an air of mystery around him. I f there is one flaw I would say Shadow of a Doubt has is that it made the revelation too early. If Hitchcock would have maintained the suspense of if Charlie was or wasn’t the murderer until the very end, I think that would have made the movie even more suspenseful. I know that sounds like blasphemy, criticizing the master of suspense but I said it and I’m sticking to it.

One of the things I liked about Saboteur, the previous film in my Hitchcock journey, was how large the adventure felt. Barry Kane started in California and worked his way across the United States, ending in New York City. Shadow of a Doubt is much smaller in scope, taking place solely in Californian small town. Despite this, Shadow of a Doubt is the more exciting film of the two. There’s something about the small town atmosphere that adds to the tension when a menacing figure shows up and begins causing havoc.

Something I didn’t expect from this film was the amount of humor it had! I regularly found myself chuckling, especially when it came to the scenes with Joe and Herbie as mentioned before. I wasn’t expecting such moments of levity from a Hitchcock film. I guess I’m learning more and more that I shouldn’t have any expectations of what to expect from a filmmaker of Hitchcock’s caliber.

I thought Shadow of a Doubt was GREAT πŸ˜€ This is what I expected out of a Hitchcock film and more. I hadn’t expected to find a favorite this early into my journey but this movie had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Joseph Cotton was the absolutely stand out member of the cast, balancing the menace and friendliness of the character. Even if the reveal is too soon, the suspense flows throughout the film. Coming across a film of this quality so early in my Hitchcock journey has me excited to see where it goes from here.

Trivia
Alfred Hitchcock has stated that this is his favorite film. Part of why he considered this to be his favorite film he made was because he liked the idea of bringing menace to a small town.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Alfred Hitchcock – Director
Thornton Wilder – Screenplay
Sally Benson – Screenplay
Alma Reville – Screenplay
Gordon McDonell – Story
Dimitri Tiomkin – Composer

Teresa Wright – Charlie Newton
Joseph Cotton – Charlie Oakley
Henry Travers – Joseph Newton
Patricia Collinge – Emma Newton
Edna May Wonacott – Ann Newton
Charles Bates – Roger Newton
Hume Cronyn – Herbie Hawkins
Macdonald Carey – Jack Graham
Wallace Ford – Fred Saunders

Raya and the Last Dragon Review

Raya and the Last Dragon movie posterSynopsis
In a hope to rid the world of evil spirits known and the Druun, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) searches for Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon.

Review
With theaters slowly opening up, I looked to book tickets to Raya and the Last Dragon at a local theater. To my surprise, none of them around me were showing the film! I would have thought that the Disney brand would for sure have filled seats so it didn’t make sense that a theater would not be showing their latest movie. But alas, I settled for watching it on Disney+, which was a shame because the allure and scale of this movie deserved to be seen on the big screen.

From the get-go, it’s clear that Raya and the Last Dragon isn’t going to be like other Disney princess films. There are no dance numbers here. The first scene is an explosive fight sequence from a young Raya with choreography that rivals live-action martial arts films. From there, the action sequences only get better. There is also a grander sense of adventure that most Disney princess films, save maybe Moana. This higher sense of adventure and action lends for a pretty fast-paced film. At an hour and a half run time, a lot is packed into it. The fight scenes between Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and Namaari (Gemma Chan) especially are exciting. Since it is shown early on that these two could have become friends, their scenes are particularly emotional because you have a sense of the relationship these two could have had.

As Raya travels throughout the land of Kumandra, she recruits a new member for her adventuring group from each of the lands. Every one of these characters was fun and brought something unique to the group. Most of their motivations for joining the group are based around their lives being affected in some way by the Druun, the evil spirits who turn people to stone, and not much more. While it may seem thin, it is enough and works in the film. The point of the story is that people from different backgrounds from all across the land trust each other and work together, which is one of the central themes of the movie.

Disney has clearly found an animation style that it likes. Much of the character design in Raya and the Last Dragon is similar to recent Disney animated films such as Frozen II and Moana. However, that doesn’t take away from its beauty. The world of Kumandra absolutely pops with vibrant colors. There are a variety of atmospheres, from deserts, to a water village, to a mountain village and many places in-between. Each place feels unique and full of life. Sisu’s character design is simply gorgeous, combining elegance with strength. Unfortunately, regardless of how beautiful the movie looks, I couldn’t help but think that I’ve seen the style of animation before, taking away some of the awe of it all.

For as exciting and empowering as this film is, my biggest issue with it is the same issue I had with last year’s Onward, and that is that it lacked that big emotional moment for me. While it is full of emotion, there wasn’t that one moment that the truly great Disney or Pixar films have that pull at the heartstrings. Also, it had a Moana vibe to me. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since I think Moana is Disney’s best film to date. However, because of that feeling of familiarity, it took away some of the uniqueness of Raya and the Last Dragan.

I thought Raya and the Last Dragon was GOOD πŸ™‚ It is immediately apparent that Raya isn’t like most princesses in the Disney canon. Starting with a gripping action scene, this film offers one of the most exciting and adventurous films from Disney in a long time, which is saying something. The animation, while gorgeous, feels familiar when compared to films like Frozen II and Moana. The biggest thing missing from this movie was that one, big emotionally impactful moment Disney films are known for. Despite these minor gripes, Raya and the Last Dragon is a tremendous addition to Disney’s princess library, full of adventure, as well as fun and memorable characters. This princess doesn’t need a musical number and that’s perfectly okay.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Don Hall – Director / Story
Carlos Lopez Estrada – Director / Story
Paul Briggs – Co-Director / Story
John Ripa – Co-Director / Story
Qui Nguyen – Screenplay / Story
Adele Lim – Screenplay / Story
Kiel Murray – Story
Dean Wellins – Story
James Newton Howard – Composer

Kelly Marie Tran – Raya (voice)
Awkwafina – Sisu (voice)
Gemma Chan – Namaari (voice)
Daniel Dae Kim – Benja (voice)
Izaac Wang – Boun (voice)
Benedict Wong – Tong (voice)
Thalia Tran – Little Noi (voice)
Sandra Oh – Virana (voice)
Alan Tudyk – Tuk Tuk (voice)
Jona Xiao – Young Namaari (voice)

The Cannonball Run Review

This review was originally posted for the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2021, hosted by Tranquil Dreams and me.


The Cannonball Run movie posterSynopsis
An eclectic group of racers take part in The Cannonball Run, a race from Connecticut to California.

Review
Look, I know The Cannonball Run might not have the best reviews out there, but you know what? I enjoy the hell out of it. Maybe it’s because this was one of the first films I had available on DVD so I regularly watched when I was younger. As a result, I might be tainted by nostalgia but there’s something about this film that keeps me coming back to it and laughing all these years later.

There are quite a few characters in The Cannonball Run and the movie tries to focus on as many of them as possible. These characters are varied and entertaining but because the film tries to focus on all of them, the first half of the film’s breezy hour and a half run time is spent before the titular race even begins as it introduces them all. Also because of the large cast, they get barely any development. Now unfortunately, this also applies to the main core of JJ (Burt Reynolds), Victor (Dom DeLuise), and Pamela (Farrah Fawcett). We do get to know more about them than those around them but it’s still the bare minimum. Given the caliber of the cast list, many of the actors and actresses are wasted, providing little more than what feel like extended cameos.

Given that the film centers around racing, it’s odd (or should it be no surprise?) that the pace is disjointed. As I said before, about half of the film is consumed on the setup. Then the next portion is spent jumping from racer to racer as they make their way across the country. Some of these segments are fantastic while others can be removed completely and it wouldn’t change the film in any way. Then it really slows down before (spoiler alert) becoming a foot race towards the finish line. The movie was shot quickly (it was filmed in 36 days and many of the actors only worked for two or three days) and it feels like much around the production was rushed as well.

Now, so far I have given only criticisms of the film but now I’m going to contradict myself. I said earlier that one of the negatives of this film was that the main characters barely receive any development. The Cannonball Run isn’t about its characters, it’s about the race. The race is an excuse to have a diverse cast characters, played by a who’s who of actors and actresses of the time. This variety is one of the film’s aspects that I enjoy the most. Not all of the actors bring their A-game but regardless, nearly all of them are loads of fun and I find their humor entertaining. And when the characters are being introduced, there are some truly memorable setups.

The gags continue all through the film. Some land spectacularly while others spectacularly miss. As I’ve said before about comedies, humor is very subjective. Meaning that if this isn’t your style of humor, you aren’t going to enjoy The Cannonball Run very much, especially since it doesn’t offer much else. But for me, the slapstick and gags throughout the movie is the kind of humor I enjoy, especially from this era of comedies.

I thought The Cannonball Run was GREAT πŸ˜€ Although this film came out a little before my time, I usurped my dad’s DVD of the film into my own collection when I was younger and watched it often; I couldn’t get enough of it! As I have watched this film more and more without the lens of youth and blissful ignorance, the flaws have become more apparent over time. Nonetheless, I still find myself coming back to The Cannonball Run and finding it good for some quick, cheap entertainment. Because of my relationship with this movie , I have come to sincerely understand that sometimes it isn’t about the quality of the film but your experience with it that makes it meaningful to you.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Hal Needham – Director
Brock Yates – Writer
Al Capps – Composer

Burt Reynolds – JJ McClure
Dom DeLuise – Victor Prinzim
Farrah Fawcett – Pamela
Jack Elam – Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing
Roger Moore – Seymour
Dean Martin – Jamie Black
Sammy Davis Jr. – Fenderbaum
Adrienne Barbeau – Marcie
Tara Buckman – Jill
Terry Bradshaw – Terry
Mel Tillis – Mel
Bert Convy – Brad
Warren Berlinger – Shakey Finch
Jamie Farr – Sheik
Rick Aviles – Mad Dog
Alfie Wise – Batman
Jackie Chan – Subaru Driver #1
Michael Hui – Subaru Driver #2
Joe Klecko – Polish Racing Driver
Norman Grabowski – Petoski
George Furth – Arthur Foyt
Peter Fonda – Chief Biker

Ultimate Decades 2021 Blogathon Kick-Off: Bridesmaids (2011) Review

Hello, friends!

I’m excited to be the first to welcome you to the sixth annual Ultimate Decades Blogathon, hosted by Kim from Tranquil Dreams and myself! In the past, the Ultimate Decades Blogathon focused on a specific decade, from the 1970s all the way to the 2010s. Rather than revisit those decades again, the format this year is slightly different. Instead of spotlighting a single decade, the the Ultimate Decades Blogathon is now focusing on films released in years that end in the same digit as the current year. Since this year is 2021, all the films in this blogathon were released in years that end in 1. Exciting, right? I think the participants this year have really outdone themselves and chosen some great films from across the decades. Now, to kick things off, I will share my review of a film that came out just last decade. Without further ado, here is my review of the 2011 Paul Feig comedy Bridesmaids.


Bridesmaids movie posterSynopsis
Jillian (Maya Rudolph) asked her best friend, Annie (Kristen Wiig), to be the Maid of Honor in her wedding. Annie finds competition in Helen (Rose Byrne) for Jillian’s attention.

Review
When a film features an all female ensemble, you would be forgiven if you expect a sappy love story about the women trying to catch themselves a man. If you went into Bridesmaids with that expectation, you would be wrong. Bridesmaids takes inspiration from films like The Hangover and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, showcasing that women can at time be just as crude as men. However, Bridesmaids never tries to be like similar films featuring ensembles of male buddies and sets out to show that female relationships do not revolve around β€œtrying to find the one” as many movies before would have you believe.

The script, written by Annie Mumolo and star Kristen Wiig, is what sets Bridesmaids apart from other female ensemble movies at the time. While vulgar and crude, which is not uncommon in comedy films (especially in the late 2000s/early 2010s), Mumolo and Wiig still manage to make it feel unique. Since this is a movie about women written by women, the relationships between the female cast feel like actual relationships. There’s a true feeling of genuineness to the characters and their interactions between each other. Like many comedies, the script takes something simple, like being a bridesmaid, and puts it under a magnifying glass, exaggerating the experience yet still keeping it relatable. While there were female-led comedy ensemble movies before Bridesmaids, they saw varied success. This film feels like it marked a turning point, proving that the comedies written by and starring women can be just as funny and entertaining as those written by and starring men.

Along with the script, the cast is absolutely stellar. Wiig seems to play off everyone around her. Her scenes with Rudolph feel like the pair have been friends since childhood. Wiig and Rose Byrne, who plays her rival for Lily’s attention, are an absolute hoot when they are together. Wendi McLendon-Covey plays the worn-down mom to perfection. The Office alum Ellie Kemper channels her inner Erin and is adorably awkward. I am a huge fan of the British television show The IT Crowd, so seeing Chris O’Dowd was a special treat. However, the stand-out performance to me was Melissa McCarthy. In one of her first feature film roles, she knocks it out of the park. Every scene of hers is laugh-out-loud funny and her comedic timing is impeccable. It’s not hard to see why her film career took off after starring in this movie. Even though there are many characters, Bridesmaids manages to balance them, providing enough screen time for the supporting characters to feel relevant but still enable the leads to stand out.

I thought Bridesmaids was GREAT πŸ˜€ Written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig and directed by Paul Fieg, it opened up the door for modern-day female-led comedies, showing that female-led comedies can be raunchy too and not just reserved for sappy love stories. What’s more, the characters are extremely likable and the entire cast is outstanding. At 10 years old, Bridesmaids has aged like a fine wine, and keeps getting better with every viewing.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Paul Feig – Director
Kristen Wiig – Writer
Annie Mumolo – Writer
Michael Andrews – Writer

Kristen Wiig – Annie
Maya Rudolph – Lillian
Melissa McCarthy – Megan
Rose Byrne – Helen
Wendi McLendon-Covey – Rita
Ellie Kemper – Becca
Chris O’Dowd – Rhodes
Rebel Wilson – Brynn
Matt Lucas – Gil
JIll Clayburgh – Annie’s Mom
Jon Hamm – Ted
Tim Heidecker – Dougie


Tomorrow, my co-host Kim will post her entry on her site in part two of the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2021 kick-off.

As the blogathon progresses, you can check out this compilation page on Kim’s site to view all of the entries.

Until next time, cheers!

Saboteur Review

Saboteur movie posterSynopsis
When Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is framed for sabotage, he sets out to prove his innocence.

Review
If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I set a movie goal for 2021. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, well, now you know that I set a movie goal for 2021 (but also you should go follow me on Twitter *wink wink*). That goal is to watch twelve Alfred Hitchcock films throughout the year; that’s roughly one a month for you math wizzes. The first in that endeavor is Hickcock’s 1942 film Saboteur.

When I hear the name β€œHitchcock,” the first thought that comes to mind is β€œsuspense.” And the kind of suspense I think about is the horror brand of suspense. Not being well-versed in Hitchcock’s films, that was much too narrow of thought. While I wouldn’t call Saboteur β€œsuspenseful,” I would call it β€œexciting.” This film did a great job of not letting the audience know anymore than Barry (Robert Cummings) about what the larger picture was. Maybe I’m used to the quick cuts of today’s cinema but the way the characters and scenes were framed made things tense and dramatic. It wasn’t the type of suspense I was expecting from a Hitchcock film but it kept me on edge nonetheless.

Something that I didn’t expect were how big some of the smaller scenes felt. For example, there is a scene were Barry meets a man named Philip Martin, played by Caughan Glaser. For most of the scene, it’s just the two of them, before Philip’s niece Pat (Priscilla Lane) enters the scene. Even though scenes like this are quieter, there is still an element of suspense to them. But more than that, they had a larger context within the story, fleshing out characters and relationships.

Speaking of relationships, Cummings and Lane were such a great pair. The two of them had a natural chemistry that made their scenes enjoyable to watch. The relationship between Barry and Pat felt a bit forced at times but luckily Cummings and Lane made it feel less out of place.

Besides the two leads, another standout performance was Otto Kruger as the villainous Charles Tobin. Some of the most terrifying villains are the ones who do not look like villains on the surface and Kruger played into that role wonderfully. He was just the right mix of suave and charm with malice and menace. You never knew exactly what he was thinking or what he was planning until it was too late.

After I finished watching the movie, I watched some of the special features on the disk. In one of the featurettes, it described how some of the special effects for the film were achieved. I think special effects are something we take for granted these days, or at least I do, with everything being done on the computer these days. I tend to forget that back in the early days, directors and cinematographers had to get creative to accomplish effects that would be simple these days. And watching and learning how it was done in this film gave me a greater appreciation in how movies were created before CGI came along.

Throughout the film, β€œthe organization” is constantly referenced. We even meet several of the leaders of the organization in Charles Tobin and Mrs. Sutton (Alma Kruger). Tobin also explains what their plan is that Barry stumbles onto. However, there is no explanation given as to why or what the organization’s overall goal is. Given the film’s early World War II setting, it could be inferred it has something to do with assisting the Axis powers but no real details are provided. It is left very vague. Although, maybe that was the point?

I thought Saboteur was GOOD πŸ™‚ As my first dip into Hitchcock’s work (well, my second, I watched Birds years ago), it was exciting to open my eyes to the depth of Hitchcock’s abilities. While not the suspense I was expected, I was captivated nevertheless. Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane carry the film with fantastic performances, and Otto Kruger keeps pace as the villain across Cummings and Lane. While I would have liked to learn more about β€œthe organization,” their anonymity and mystery give another layer of suspense to the film. All in all, not a bad start to my journey through Hitchcock’s filmography.

Trivia
This was the first movie in which Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s name was billed above the title. (via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Alfred Hitchcock – Director
Peter Viertel – Screenplay
Joan Harrison – Screenplay
Dorothy Parker – Screenplay
Frank Skinner – Composer

Robert Cummings – Barry Kane
Priscilla Lane – Patricia (Pat) Martin
Otto Kruger – Charles Tobin
Alan Baxter – Freeman
Clem Bevans – Neilson
Norman Lloyd – Frank Fry
Alma Kruger – Mrs. Henrietta Sutton
Caughan Glaser – Philip Martin
Dorothy Peterson – Mrs. Mason


There is still a week left to join the Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2021. For all the details, check out the announcement post.