Paul’s Favorite Films – Introduction

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Cinema is many things to me. It goes beyond entertainment and mental stimulation, but to see the world through a new set of eyes. Every movie tells a tale that filmmakers felt needed to be said, even when all odds and forces of nature, studio and egos got in their way. It is a miracle that any film ever gets made, and it is even more of a joy when it turns out to be a glowing representation of what it means to be human.

Films can transport us to an entirely different world, where the laws of physics and reality no longer apply. It can take us back to a time that we never thought to see again. It gives us immortal characters that we adore, despise, relate, respect and most importantly observe as we embark on this journey along them. Movies can even offer us a new perspective on our world that we never would had considered, making our time on this planet so much more appealing.

Cinema can be poignant, terrifying, heart-warming, uproarious, thoughtful, debatable, tear-jerking, disgusting, and is almost always beautiful. In a sense, film can be whatever you want it to be.

Movies are a gift to the world, with each one offering a new, dazzling view of our existence. There are many wonderful things out there in the world that we haven’t seen, and film gets us a bit closer to those awe-inspiring moments in life. In fact, movies can often be those wonderful things, capturing a precious point that we can admire.

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But most importantly, cinema is the ability to see the lives of every filmmaker through the lens of that camera. Their hopes, dreams, aspirations, everything they love and hate about life is put up on that silver screen for the world to see. A part of all filmmakers is put into the movie, and that gives cinema its soul.

I love cinema because it is reflective of mankind.

Welcome to a project that I’ve been working on for a very long time and have wanted to do since I started this blog – an appreciation of why I love cinema as much as I do.

The best way for me to go about doing so is to look at my favorite aspects of movies, and review the films that have stuck with me for a very long time. The films that I cannot stop thinking about and the ones that I keep coming back to, year after year, and are still as fascinated by them now as I was when I first watched them.

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As such, this will be a new series as I review my top 25 favorite films of all time, starting at number twenty-five and working my way up to my favorite movie ever. I won’t be spoiling what films will be reviewed, but if you’ve followed me for long enough then you can probably guess what some of the films will be.

What I can say is that there is a wide-range of films, dating back as far as the 1930s to as recent as 2008, made by filmmakers from all over the world, creating films of many genres.

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These reviews will focus more on why I love them, rather than the traditional pros-and-cons. Not that I have many negative things to say about any of these movies, since they’re all A+ material to me. These are also not necessarily what I would consider the greatest films ever made, just the ones that left the biggest impact on me and changed how I looked at movies. Though that doesn’t mean you won’t be seeing some of the films that I consider the greatest on this countdown.

So, without further ado, let us begin this look at my favorite films of all time. In the next few days, you can expect a look at my twenty-fifth favorite and the beginning of my longest series yet.

Mini-Review – “Time After Time” (1979)

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H.G. Wells (played by Malcolm McDowell) invents an actual time machine, then gets it stolen by Jack The Ripper (David Warner), and now Wells has to chase him down in present-day San Francisco. Oh, and the film is written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, the same man who gave us “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.”

If that is not enough incentive to go out and watch this unbelievably crazy, wacky yet hilarious story of two famous historical figures time traveling, then I don’t know what is. It is worth watching just to see Malcolm McDowell playing the author of “War Of The Worlds” and “The Time Machine,” attempting to understand how cars work.

How can you go wrong with that?

Final Grade: B+

Mini-Review – “Papillion” (1973)

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I’m beginning to realize that I am not the biggest Steve McQueen fan.

Don’t get me wrong, I think McQueen is a one-of-a-kind actor. I’ve never seen anyone turn in a performance like him, in that his are often emotional, but also silent and distant. In “Papillon,” McQueen plays a convict, wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit, and is sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, the French equivalent of Alcatraz.

The problem with “Papillon” is that McQueen never really attempts to connect with the audience. We just go along with him for the ride, as he attempts to escape from this prison, for over two and a half hours. The second half of the film is incredibly tedious to sit through, as we just wait for the film to end once McQueen and his friend (played by Dustin Hoffman) nearly escape.

I don’t know about you, but something is wrong when the audience is just waiting for the something to happen so that the film can end.

That being said, “Papillon” does not pull any punches when it comes to the violence of prison. We see realistic depictions of a man’s head being cut off via guillotine, as well as throats being cut and fresh bullet holes through people’s heads. I was surprised when some of those happened, as I did not think the film would go that far.

Still, these random acts of violence aside, “Papillon” does not have much going for it. The acting from Dustin Hoffman is nice, as always, but McQueen just sits around and waits for events to happen and the film gets stale half way through.

Final Grade: C+

 

Mini-Review – “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” (1939)

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Some time ago, I wrote a review of the 1925 version of “The Phantom Of The Opera,” and discussed how the only true memorable part of the film was Lon Chaney’s terrifying and haunting performance as the phantom. In a way, the 1939 version of “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” is the same way with its lead role, played by Charles Laughton, but with the added benefit of developing this distant and foreign world.

If you’ve watched the Disney version of “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame,” then you will see a similar plot in this film, though with less musical numbers and no talking gargoyles. What the 1939 film changes though is that Quasimodo (Laughton) is now deaf from being near the bells for this long, and has very few lines of dialogue. Laughton must communicate to Ezmerelda and Frollo through facial expressions and body language, which is made even more difficult with the large amounts of make-up on him. Yet he is able to give Quasimodo this loving and curious attitude, even though the lack of dialogue and make-up.

Though Charles Laughton’s performance is the reason to watch this film, what I found the most intriguing was how strange and ancient this 15th century France was. The wealthiest citizens are amazed at the sight of a printing press, able to create a book in under a week, as opposed to before taking two to three years to make one bible. Or how King Louis XI talks about Christopher Columbus attempting to travel west to get to India faster, and other aristocrats speaking up to say that they know the world is flat and that he’ll fall from it.

Most of these gave me a good chuckle, but at the same time, this is the world they lived in. Where they had not discovered what we now know and go off merely their own faiths and beliefs, and accept them as truths. Which is why someone like Quasimodo would be forced to live in a church, locked away from the rest of this prejudice and scared society.

“The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” certainly has many elements worth checking out, including Charles Laughton’s performance and an exciting climax where Quasimodo must fight off most of Paris. It is a bit slow near the middle of the film and Ezmerelda is a pretty forgettable character. Still, this one had a lot going for it.

Final Grade: B-

 

Movie Review – “Mad Max: Fury Road” – What A Lovely Day!

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When it comes to filming any sort of action movie, there are three different routes the director can take – Either to make the action simple, logical and fluid, to be elaborate, sprawling and epic, or make something that is elaborate seem like it is simple.

A logical action film, like “The Terminator” or “Assault On Precinct 13” are barebones and do not attempt to do much else other than serve as a vehicle for suspenseful action sequences. Then there are sprawling action films, like “The Avengers” or “Die Hard,” which take every opportunity to showcase the detail and scope of the filmmakers, so that the audience may share in their passion for filmmaking.

Every once in a while, you get a film that falls into that third group – Where you can tell that the filmmakers put in intense thought, time, creative ingenuity and passion into every frame of the film, yet it is combined with a simple and straight forward narrative and direction that everything flows naturally.

It is as if the film is walking a tight rope between simplicity and over-the-top, only in this case that tight rope is insanely tiny that is seems invisible, and it seems as though the film is walking on air.

This is the charm of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” In its execution, the film could not be simpler, as the characters run on logical reasoning and their drive to survive in this world that no longer suits them, while at the same time the filmmakers put in as many loving details and eccentricities to the visual style. This makes watching the film a feast to both the eyes and the mind.

Set some time after the events of the previous “Mad Max” films, Max (Tom Hardy) continues to roam what is left of humanity’s wasteland, attempting to outrun scavengers, crazies trying to get his supplies, and his own demons of people that he could not save. After Max is captured by a ruthless cult leader who controls a massive underground water supply, he ends up getting caught in a revolt where Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) attempts to take the leader’s women used for breeding away from this dreaded place and keep them somewhere safe.

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Honestly, there was very little of this film that did not impress me, but what got me the most was how little of the film was computer generated imagery. The majority of this film relies on stunt work, tricky camera placement and movement and utilizing the massive landscape of the barren desert. Obviously there are a few scenes that rely on CGI, like a scene with a car chase through the middle of a desert storm, but it is used logically and sparingly. The size and scope of that chase would not have been possible without CGI, so I have no complaints.

The visual style of “Mad Max: Fury Road” is stunning to say the least. Every shot of this film is visually pleasing in one way or another. Whether it is the size of the desert landscape against our tiny characters with a massive army of cars approaching them, the lighting of a scene from inside the cult leader’s hoard of steering wheels as if it is a shrine to cars, to the jumbled-messes of vehicles that everyone drives that range from absurd to awesome, to the massive explosion of a gasoline tanker while Max zips passed it on a car driving by.

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Imagine “Lawrence Of Arabia” if it was directed by James Cameron, and you get a pretty good idea of what “Mad Max: Fury Road” might be like.

Also, talk about an empowering film for women. Besides Charlize Theron kicking all sorts of crazies (and with one hand no less), she has several other dedicated and knowledgable women by her side who are ready to throw down if they have to. In fact, Max becomes sort of minor character at some points to the dramatic action sequences to showcase these women taking down a horde of insane bandits as they head into the eye of the storm.

But what makes “Mad Max: Fury Road” so satisfying is that, when it comes to the plot and motivations for our characters, the film could not be any more simple. Furiosa is doing this because these women need some sort of hope in a world that has none. They’ve lived their lives just surviving, and now that they’ve suffered for this long, they deserve to live. This is helped further by having very little dialogue between the main characters, as there is not much that needs to be said.

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It is rare to see an action film today where the main characters do not act out of some version of revenge, equality, liberation or vengeance. These characters are merely looking for salvation, which is nice to see.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is a gem that stands out above any other summer blockbuster in the past decade. It is beautiful to look at, straight forward in its execution, yet elaborate at showcasing stunning action sequences, and never stops being exciting and fun. If you enjoy action films of any kind, be sure to go see this one and you will not be disappointed.

Final Grade: A

Mini-Review – “Stella Dallas” (1937)

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A little known fact about me – If I had to pick a favorite actress of all time, it would be Barbara Stanwyck. Her ability to deliver such ferocity, charm and sentiment is unlike anything I’ve seen in any actor or actress. She could melt any screen with just a single tear, and “Stella Dallas” proves that.

I’m convinced that this film was created specifically to show off just how great of an actress Stanwyck could be. In this film, where Stanwyck plays the titular role, we see this poor-born girl go through a myriad of life changes, some good and others terribly selfish and greedy. She ends up marrying a rich man, and Stella ends up falling in love with the idea of being rich and popular, causing the two to drift apart. But not after the two have a child together, and Stella takes the baby to raise on her own, even if the father moves away for business.

At this point, Stella forgets all about her other life and grows into the role of a mother, and all the sacrifices that come with that. Her own personal happiness is tied directly to her daughter, Laurel. She only wants to give her daughter a good life, one that Stella did not get. But as Laurel grows older and learns more about the world and her father, it might just be that living with Stella might not be the best path for Laurel in life, much to her mother’s dismay.

Of course, all of this comes to a head in the final scene in the film – which I will not spoil – where tragedy and success meet, and one of the crowning moments in Barbara Stanwyck’s acting career is found. A moment where, through no dialogue at all, Stanwyck communicates to us about loss, pride, respect, acceptance and happiness. The pain that she must be going through is excruciating, but the joy that her job as a mother has led up to this moment is even greater.

“Stella Dallas” is not just a great example of Barbara Stanwyck’s acting abilities, but a modern-day tragedy about a fear that all mother’s must face – their children growing up and becoming adults themselves. A timeless tale that pulls at the heart and reminds us that being a parent is a difficult task, but it is also a very rewarding one.

Final Grade: A-

 

Mini-Review – “Unbreakable” (2000)

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M. Night Shaymalan is one of the strangest oddities in current filmmaking. When he started out with “The Sixth Sense,” everyone was blown away by his creativity and simplicity, as he had given us a thriller that has not aged at all and continues to impress audiences to this day. After that, it is clear that Shaymalan thought highly of himself and thought anything he created was a work of genius. This has led to many disastrous movies, such as “The Happening,” “The Lady In The Water,” “The Village,” “After Earth” and “The Last Airbender,” with each next film going further down the rabbit hole.

But before Shaymalan descended into full madness, he did manage to give us one more good film. People debate over whether that film is “Signs” or “Unbreakable.” After seeing Shaymalan’s work that serves as an homage to super heroes, as well as a deconstruction of them, I can honestly say that “Unbreakable” is just as good as “The Sixth Sense.”

Much like Shaymalan’s other great work, there is a creepy yet undeniable atmosphere to the film. In the case of “Unbreakable,” it plays with the idea that we’re not in control of our destiny. That fate has decided whether you are good or evil, and there is nothing that you can do to stop that. No matter what you do with your life, no matter what you’ve accomplished, life has already chosen if you are a bad guy. This makes the film utterly terrifying, especially near the end when we get our classic Shaymalan twist.

For a movie, this is a rare and often neglected point of view – the negative effect of a pre-chosen fate. Most films about this path are about how we should trust the grand plan of the universe and believe in it. But “Unbreakable” insists that thousands of innocent lives are endangered because we must follow the “grand plan.”

That being said, “Unbreakable” is often pretentious with the cinematography and exaggerated color scheme, as well as the long-drawn out pauses in dialogue that we’ve come to expect from M. Night Shaymalan. However, much more to love about “Unbreakable” than there is to hate, and that makes this one a creepy yet unforgettable ride.

Final Grade: B