Tag Archives: IMDB

IMDB Top 250: Leon: The Professional

Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Jean Reno (Leon), Natalie Portman (Mathilda), Gary Oldman (Stansfield)

Year: 1994

Before emotionally troubled hitmen were popularized once again by characters like Jason Bourne, director Luc Besson brought “Leon: The Professional” to the big screen. Played by the effortlessly cool and capable Jean Reno, the film has amassed a cult following ever since it was released in 1994, helping to cement its position close to the top of the IMDB Top 250 list.

Jean Reno plays Leon, a rather unremarkable middle aged hitman who has grown to become the ultimate expression of strategic and methodical violence. He works for a single client, local mob boss Tony (Danny Aiello), who has taken him under his wing ever since he landed as an illiterate immigrant in the New York harbor. Continue reading IMDB Top 250: Leon: The Professional

Blog of Big Ideas’ 1st Anniversary

Today I can proudly say that The Blog of Big Ideas is celebrating its first anniversary.

It all started with a friend who planted the seed suggesting I start a blog to touch upon things I was interested in (if you are interested in Graphic Design, her blog is definitely worth checking out). As a fellow user of WordPress, she pointed out how rewarding it had been for her, no matter if anyone read it or not, having become a creative outlet from which to translate her ideas into writing. I was no stranger to her blog, and I was certainly not completely foreign to the community, but once someone pushed me to start writing and I started typing my first word on my first post, there was simply no way back.

Continue reading Blog of Big Ideas’ 1st Anniversary

IMDB top 250 challenge recap

I could not end the year without offering a brief recapitulation of what has been the most satisfying part of my young blog: the IMDB’s Top 250 challenge.

When I started, the goal was to push myself to fill the voids in my film repertoire with some of the so-called “classics” that I have not had the pleasure to see until now.

It is clear that the avid moviegoer that makes up the bulk of the users at IMDB are good judges on what makes a film great. Their ratings are very close to mine in almost every case, with only “Blade Runner” and “The Thing” as the two slight disappointments so far. My average rating for the 16 films is a remarkable 4.25 out of 5, well above the average rating in my film archive of 2.7

Following is a brief summary of the 16 films I have reviewed since I began the challenge. Find an excerpt of my original post for all 16 reviews and, under some you will also find the new tag “Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 films ever” which is a list I will be publishing by the end of my challenge.

Continue reading IMDB top 250 challenge recap

IMDB Top 250: Magnolia (1999)

I find myself back at my IMDB top 250 challenge after a couple of months without a single post. Magnolia, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, marks only my 14th review since I began this series in March, which tells me I need to pick up the pace if I am ever going to finish.

Released in 1999 to critical acclaim, Magnolia is not only engrossing, but it is the sort of movie that lends itself to analysis for its purpose does not easily come across. In fact, there are sequences of the film which are downright odd, though imbedded with symbolic meaning.

Magnolia is a poem written and produced in cinematic form. It comes across as a tragedy filled with tender, highly emotional moments where lives either get significantly and permanently altered, or they meet their unavoidable end.

Continue reading IMDB Top 250: Magnolia (1999)

IMDB Top 250: Gran Torino (2008)

And so my IMDB challenge and Clint-Eastwood cycle continue. Today I will touch upon a film I watched over a month ago that I never got to review until now.

While some details might disappear in time, what remains important and true about a movie that I saw more than a month ago is still fresh in my mind. In a way, it sometimes proves more useful to let a film seep in and settle until I am prepared to emit a judgement that is not limited or determined by my initial impression, which can be severely flawed.

Having said that, Gran Torino, directed and starred by Clint Eastwood, has lost some of its initial appeal and I have come to view the film as one that is strong and solid as its core but a bit weak as a whole.

In a gist, Gran Torino is a story about self-discovery and personal growth. Of course, the film touches upon other subjects such as racism, intolerance, urban decay, violence, cultural division and family relationships. However, in the course of almost two months since I had the chance to watch it, Gran Torino stuck in my mind as a piece of work that tries to explore the idea that race, gender and racial lines can be overcome and that, as a result, we can learn more about ourselves and the world.

This is the journey of Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) in Gran Torino.

Having lost his wife, Walt is presented to us as a grumpy old fellow that is as stubborn and stuck in his ways as they come. Walt has a very specific image of people in his head, often letting his first impressions dominate his behavior towards others. He is disappointed and bitter about the passing of the only woman that he tolerated and that tolerated him in return. He is also frustrated at his surroundings. Walt has a family that seems to have fallen for every stereotype of the contemporary suburban household. He is also in the middle of a neighborhood in Detroit that has progressively deteriorated. What used to be a blue-collar prosperous community, now has turned into a culturally diverse community of immigrants (some illegal I presume) of limited means and very different values to what he is used to.

Walt does not want to leave his house or his belongings. He had picked the land decades ago and he would stick by it to his death, or until it miraculously begins to turn around. Why should he leave? he thinks.Β  He feels he is more worthy of the land than any of his new neighbors, having worked for decades to own what he owns, saving a good part of his income to build his favorite toy: a 1972 Gran Torino.

When his most-prized possession is threatened, all of the frustrations and misconceptions of Walt come to the surface. Slowly but surely, Walt is forced, by an unlikely series of events, to get closer to the same next-door neighborsΒ  he has grown to despise for quite a long time. These include a couple of Korean teens that after having been in the wrong, show him that they are good at heart, forcing Walt to reconsider and ultimately embrace them as a kind of protector to the many outside threats present in modern-day Detroit.

As he grows closer to his new friends, Walt becomes more involved with their isues and especially with their problematic connections to gangs that rule the community. Eventually, Walt realizes that life has given him a new purpose and, with that, new responsibilities. In his new role as patriarch of the community, he is willing to go far and beyond what everyone expects in order to give his friends a better future, ridding them forever of the threat of the gangs that seem determined to ruin their lives.

As it is common in Eastwood’s body of work, the film works itself out to have a meaningful message submerged in between the lines of the script. He builds his movies to what usually seems to be an unavoidable end that we try to avoid as an audience, but that ultimately comes to its tragic, yet uplifting conclusion. Usually, the climax of Eastwood’s films comes in the form of violence which represents a perfect vehicle for his underlying messages about humanity to come across with a splash.

Gran Torino is, in this sense, yet another careful study about humanity and, more specifically, about our ability to sacrifice for others while getting rid of our misconceptions about cultures and styles of life that are foreign to us. As accomplished as the story is, Eastwood’s Gran Torino fails to reach great heights because of the unpolished quality of the film. The casting is good, but not great, and Thao, played by Bee Vang, seems like a specially odd choice.

Sometimes there are movies that benefit from having an unpolished quality, which can enhance the realistic sense of a film. However, Gran Torino feels unpolished in a way that is often apparent and awkward, getting in the way of our experience as an audience. There are scenes that seem to have been rushed, perhaps falling victim to the low-budget and to the directorial style of Eastwood, who usually encourages very few takes and little rehearsal. Such a way of filming can accomplish great results with a talented and experienced cast, but not as much when the actors lack the expertise and/or the talent to make it work on the big screen.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Niels

IMDB Top 250: Unforgiven (1992)

I have found great pleasure in my IMDB challenge, but none greater than the movie I am about to review: Unforgiven. This film will mark a fitting beginning to what I call my Clint Eastwood cycle, which would concentrate in all of the movies that he has been a part of that are also in the TOP 250 films at IMDB.

I have already watched “Gran Torino” more than a month ago and I have struggled to find the right ideas to talk about the film, but given the fact that I will be concentrating on Eastwood in the next few weeks, it is definitely time to also give a review of that film in an upcoming post I am already preparing.

Now back to Unforgiven….

I very much doubt Eastwood will ever do a better film and in the coming lines I will try to explain why.

Unforgiven feels like a great Rock n’ Roll song. For most of its running time, it remains an object of mystery, muted in its reach at first, gaining power and punch as it slowly unravels in order to finally open itself to the audience in a crescendo of violence that seemed both unreachable at first but always unavoidable.

Clint Eastwood is not only the director of this exquisite film, but he also stars as the movie’s central and most interesting character. He plays William Munny, a retired assassin of the Old West who, after having married, tried and succeeded for some time to change his ways and raise two children with very modest means. The film opens with a simple shot that pays homage to a time before ours (and to previous Westerns) where a man, probably Eastwood, stands next to a beautiful tree digging the final resting place of his young wife who had, as the film explains in two simple paragraphs, just perished due to small pox.

Along with his story, the film presents us with the town of Big Whiskey, an outpost that is typical of the Wild West. The whorehouse has been visited by two foreign cowboys, one of which, in a fit of rage, has cut up the beautiful face of one of the “whores”. He is stopped only by the feel of a gun next to his temple carried by the owner of the establishment who ties them up and waits for the town’s sheriff to impart some justice. It is at this moment that we meet “Little Bill”, masterfully played by Gene Hackman. He quickly appears to be a figure that demands respect. Bill stands with confidence, knowing exactly what he will do even before he takes a good look at the two men. He deals a magnanimous hand, setting the criminals free once they commit to compensate the owner with a few horses.The only voice that rises and protests to the glaring injustice is “Strawberry Alice”, the “matriarch whore”, fearlessly played by Frances Fisher. Her protests are dismissed by men but not quenched, as we soon learn her women have impressively gathered a thousand dollars to reward anyone who avenges them and kills the two cowboys.

Eastwood’s Old Wild West in Unforgiven is different in that it presents us with characters that have lived and gotten used to the terrible cruelty of the West, who now face extinction as a more lawful and organized modernity seems to creep around them without notice. Gene Hackman is the man that brings order with an iron fist, but also with a certain degree of equanimity gained by his many years of experience and his calm yet fearsome demeanor. When he learns the whores have posted a reward asking for the killing of two cowboys, he quickly focuses on keeping Big Whiskey free of assasins who would surely come to collect the bounty. No longer this is the Old West of duels and self-imposed justice. This has become the West of the sheriff and the American government that is clearly represented by the flags hanging on both sides of the County Office.

In this context, Eastwood meets a young cowboy self-nicknamed “The Schofield Kid”, played by a debutant Jaimz Woolvett. Here is a new breed of cowboy, eager to claim a bounty not fully knowing the risks that are involved with a killing. He comes to Munny to propose him half of the bounty if he joins him in this quest, having discovered that the old man who can’t even manage to organize a herd of hogs was once a feared gunslinger. Munny has seemingly lost his strength and poise, and with marriage, he also seems to have lost his desire for “meanness” and “wickedness”. First he dismisses the bashful Kid, but later comes to his senses and decides to join him not before enlisting his old partner, played by the everlasting Morgan Freeman.

There is obviously a need for money as poverty has taken over and defined Munny’s life for the last few years. He constantly repeats he has long since retired from his old habits, quitting Whiskey and staying away from his gunslinger past as long as money allowed him to. He repeats he is now “a changed man” over the course of the movie, almost as if he needs to remind himself that he no longer has it in him to kill for money.We start suspecting though (with some skepticism) that Munny does have it in him still and that, beyond the bounty, he secretly desires to prove himself, even when all we see is a shadow of his former glory, aged by the harshness of the Old West.

With Unforgiven, Eastwood seems to have become a part of the scenery. He seems to fit in the desert. Munny feeds from the scenery as if he were a true part of it. It is a quality that Eastwood has gained, as an actor, not only with his age, but with the experience given by the many Western classics he was a part of. With Unforgiven he has clearly decided to close a chapter in his career, presenting us with an Old Wild West that is changing its ways, with seemingly washed-up old timers that are no longer good for a fight.

Munny seems to drag the group’s feet, but in his silence and contemplation, there seems to be a dark man capable of anything, just waiting to come out. Eatwood suffers during the trip and almost meets his death because of a great beating he suffered at the mercy of Little Bill. He takes every punch and kick like he deserves it, as if he wants to die. He crawls away from the whorehouse in pain, but also with the persistence and psychotic resolution of a predestined assassin of the West. Once he gets back up and meets the victimized whore outside a barn, he starts gaining his confidence back and, with that, some of his old vicious self. The old assassin is slowly revealed and with that, Eastwood’s commanding presence on the screen grows larger.

What ensues in the last few scenes, as Munny’s wickedness and thirst for revenge in the form of violence fully awakens, is one of the most electrifying action sequences ever put in film. It lacks the glamor and the perfectly tuned craft of today’s action movies, but it plays effectively as the awkwardness and imperfection gives it a sense of realism that would otherwise lack.

Eastwood directs Unforgiven with patience, in a manner that recalls the work of the previous masters of the best American Westerns, while defining a fitting end for an era of movie-making that saw Clint Eastwood rise as one of its most prominent stars. Unforgiven also reminds me of another masterpiece, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which a delusional and psychotic cab driver is treated as a hero, after he explodes in an act of violence that had seemed at odds with his personality for much of the film.

For its beautiful scenery, the rawness of his camerawork, the perfect casting, his patient yet electrifying storyline, and for his indelible presence in the movie, Eastwood managed to produce a work that is flawless in its genre, and that is superior in its detail and intricacies to anything he has ever been a part of before or after.

Rating: 5 out of 5 (flawless)

IMDB Top 250: Apocalypse Now (1979)

My challenge to watch the IMDB TOP 250 films of all-time continues.

Today is yet another pleasurable encounter with my keyboard as I get to review a very unique and accomplished film: Apocalypse Now.

At 153 minutes, Apocalypse Now is a very long movie that fails only in its lack of momentum which, at times, can make the movie drag a bit in its final few scenes. However, the film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, moves with a gentle pace so we can absorb and get to know the Vietnamese jungle intimately at the time of the American occupation following the rise of Comunism in the Far East. It is a film that, without a doubt, pays homage to its title by attempting, with great success, to capture the apocalyptical devastation caused by the war in the hearts and minds of the people of Vietnam, of American soldiers, and of a country that had grown doubtful of the whole military campaign.
For most of its length, the film follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a strange mission to assassinate a rogue Green Beret beyond the thick jungle and into the depths of remote Cambodia where he is believed to be. We first encounter Willard laying anxiously on his bed, back in the United States, narrating his inability to lead a normal life while his mind and heart had stayed in Vietnam. He waits for a new deployment, abhorring his new uneventful life away from the chaotic setting of the war. When Willard finally gets his wish and is reassigned to the war, he narrates from the future, explaining that the place he was headed to was the worst place in the world.
It comes as no surprise that the movie becomes more about the path than about the destination. After meeting with some officials that include a very young Harrison Ford, Willard is assigned a small group of soldiers to navigate across Vietnam and into Cambodia. Along the way we are reminded of the objective of the mission by Willard’s narration, but it slowly fades into the background as we are presented with the horror of the war and the collapse of the American endeavor.
First, Willard meets an official, masterfully played by Robert Duvall, who is portrayed as an odd mutation of the rigid West-Point trained officer, always walking with confidence and unafraid of his surroundings, as if he knew he wasnt meant to die in the war. Such confidence borders with insanity as he seems detached from what is happening around him and asks the impossible from his troops, repeatedly risking their lives more for his depraved entertainment, than for a true military purpose.
Like the officer, Willard encountered one odd situation after another, showing us an American force that was poorly trained, managed and directed, with soldiers that had lost their grip on reality, leaving morality far behind.

In this context, Willard begins to find a strange wisdom in the words and actions of the mad-man he is supposed to kill. Willard doubts the purpose of the mission more and more as it becomes clear to him that a rogue Green Beret is just a small problem in a war effort that is falling apart in front of his eyes.
In the more than 2 hours of the film, Willard remains the more sane of all characters, even when he is part of a mission with little purpose and that is depicted as a consequence to the insanity of the circumstances.
By the time Willard finally meets the rogue Colonel Kurtz, he is only with a couple of soldiers, trapped in a foreign world where madness was apparent everywhere, yet no one seemed to notice.
Sadly, the film anticipates the moment so much and for so long that even if the Colonel, played rather subtly by the great Marlon Brando, had been wearing an elephant head for a hat, we would have felt a bit let down by the “monster” Willard was supposed to encounter.

Above all, Apocalypse Now is an effective atmospheric poem about how pointless and tragic the War in Vietnam was. Marlon Brando, in this sense, becomes Coppola’s flagship to represent the ultimate American tragedy: a promising, smart and courageous leader of men driven to despair and insanity by the horror of a needless war.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)

Niels

IMDB Top 250: Patton (1970)

My challenge to watch the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site continues. This is my 5th review, 121 films remain.

Today, it is my pleasure to review yet another movie that greatly deserves to be ranked among the best films of all time.

The movie is “Patton” and it follows a man: the famous general George S. Patton during the allied offensive of WWII.
Unlike other contemporary war films that concentrate on the human drama on the ground, this movie is a character study of the famous General Patton who found, in war, his natural habitat.

Patton is a film that, for most of its running time, remains behind enemy lines, away from the front line action, but intimately close to one of the protagonists of the conflict.
The complexities and nuances of a man that was vital in the success of the Allied offensive was masterfully captured by the underrated George C. Scott. It is, without a doubt, an epic performance, almost theatrical in its grandeur. Scott’s portrayal of General Patton achieves, despite the larger-than-life scale of his character, a great believability. He played a man that did not see war as his obligation to his country or as an opportunity to test his manhood, but as his ultimate purpose, his only cause, what truly defined who he was as a man.

Patton as most other generals, spent a significant amount of time politicizing and framing inside make-shift offices the destiny of WWII. He saw it as a necessary part of war, one he was not particularly good at. In fact, while his victories on the field were impressive, politics were not his forte and often, he found himself at odds with the High Command. What is shown in the film are not so much his struggles on the field, but rather his shortcomings as an off-the-field officer. He is often stuck as a spectator to what he considers to be the chance of a lifetime due to his controversial political persona. It is in the midst of this situation that the film takes off, showing us a man ridden with a sense of helplessness and frustration that is in sharp contrast to his incredible confidence on the field.

As a character study, Patton constructs enough of an image for us to place the rest of the missing pieces of the puzzle. We get a sense of what he wants or desires, but there is always an element of surprise in his actions that make Scott’s General one of the most excitingly complex and mysterious film characters ever.

As it often happens with other great films, a rather unlikable character manages to grow fonder in our eyes as the film progresses. Patton himself admits to be the target of hate and fear among the men he commands and we can sure see why. However, we fall in love with his passion and conviction to defeat his enemies, which is portrayed, without much restraint, over the course of an unforgettable biopic.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)

Niels

IMDB Top 250: The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) continues…

Among the 8 films I have been able to watch pertaining to my top 250 challenge, none other has left a bigger impression on me as the wonderful french movie “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” by director Julian Schnabel.

The movie is based on a true story that depicts the horrible fate of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine. One day a successful and womanizing business man, and the next a man who has suffered a massive stroke that has rendered him almost completely paralyzed. We meet him at the hospital, struggling to wake up from a coma. Soon, a parade of doctors and nurses hover above him and we realize that he is still a completely rational man who is trapped inside his “diving bell” of a body with only his left eye left to communicate with others. He blinks once to say yes, twice to say no, and repeatedly to express a more specific desire. The viewer spends a good part of the movie inside him looking out, sharing, to some extent, the sense of claustrophobia and helplessness Bauby must have had to endure.

The director, Julian Schnabel, treats the story without grand gestures or manufactured uplifting moments. Schnabel’s effectiveness in this film comes from his simple and honest depiction of great adversity. We get to inhabit Bauby’s paralyzed body, relive some of his memories in order to understand the man before the tragedy, and we take part in the asphyxiating situation he is in. Schnable trusts the power of his story to speak for itself. Bauby is a tragedy but also a triumph since he was able, against all odds, to compose a memoir using only his left eye to blink as a nurse recited the alphabet, painstakingly constructing words.

Of course, the movie would have floundered if it wasn’t for a simply wonderful cast. Mathieu Amalric, whose performance as Bauby, is as complex and accomplished as I have ever seen. Almaric embodies the spirit of a free man who loves life as convincingly as he captures the painful reality of Bauby’s paralysis. His father, played by Max Von Sydow is equally moving and wonderful. The rest of the cast acts in a manner that is so natural and honest that it allows us to forget we are watching a film.
Released in 2007, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly enriched a rare year for movies that was full of quality films. This wonderful French movie greatly deserves its place among the best that year but also among the best films of all time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)

Niels

IMDB Top 250: 12 Monkeys (1995)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) continues….

Among all of the top rated films of the site, there are few that received as little recognition by the public as 12 Monkeys.

The movie, directed by the underrated Terry Gilliam, touches upon a subject that is much too common in contemporary cinema: the extermination, or near extermination of the human race due to a virus that either kills humans completely or partially (zombies!).

In 12 Monkeys, we are presented with a grim future of civilization. 99% of the human race has been completely wiped out and the remaining few now reside in a subterranean world, far away from the virus that has contaminated the air. A good part of the merit of this film can be attributed to the artistry behind the design of this futuristic world, one in which animals roam the surface freely unaffected by the virus, while humans live away from the sun, no longer populating cities and crowding the planet’s resources, but in cages and laboratories. It is a dark world, where civilization is only a shadow of its former glory, trapped indoors, defeated by the circumstances and alienated by its horrible fate.

In this context, we are introduced to James Cole (Bruce Willis), a man secluded in a cage, punished to live like a rat due to his history of aggressive behavior. On a day like any other, James is randomly selected to explore the surface and collect evidence that could continue to lead scientists to find a cure and piece together the events that led to the extermination of the human race. Despite his supposedly delinquent past, James strikes me as one of the more “normal” humans of this virus-ridden world, since even those who sit at the top of this world seem to be caricatures of humans, strange obsessive scientists that have clearly been mentally affected by their inability to find a cure. In James they find yet another rat lab in which to deposit their hope of finding a way out.

After a few successful trips to the surface, the scientists present James with a unique opportunity. He is to travel to the past, using a time machine, right before the first case of the virus was detected. He is told this is an opportunity to find answers and be the hero. Without many options, James starts a journey that takes him to the early 1990s, in the midst of a society that feels foreign to him. His inability to understand his surroundings and adapt to this world quickly put him in a mental institution where he faithfully meets Jeffrey (Brad Pitt), who is to play a major role in the destruction of the human race.

It is at this moment that James starts shaping not only his future, but the events that would follow, finding himself, sometimes accidentally, in the middle of the situation that led to the spreading of the deadly virus.

From here on, the movie presents us with a dual reality, one rooted in the future, and the other in the past. These worlds are obviously very different, but it is in their similarities that the film makes a strong statement. To James, the future clearly sucks, but the past does not feel all that great either as he witnesses a chaotic society full of vice, corruption, crime and poverty. He is, despite his tendency towards aggression and violence, the only one that seems interested in saving civilization, always struggling to find his voice in a world that does not believe in his doomsday theories. Eventually, James finds a confidant, his psychiatrist Kathryn (Madeleine Stowe). She, unlike the rest starts to listen as he proves, time and time again, that he is too rational and strong-willed in the pursuit of his goal to be crazy. As she starts to trust and support him in his quest, James finds a small escape from the huge burden of responsibility and, in doing so, he begins to make us doubt about the real purpose of his quest, making us question if he already feels he is destined to fail, or even more tragically, whether his mission is real at all.

In this sense, the film finds its force in the uncertainty of the plot. The way it works itself out is not only richly complex, but it also makes us doubt, giving the audience a reason to think about the very nature of the conflict, and whether or not the struggle to save humanity is real or simply the wild imagination of a man consumed by paranoia.

With enough twists and turns to make you dizzy; with a familiar yet original way of approaching a familiar movie genre; with a very convincing and entertaining cast; and a great amount of artistry in its portrayal of the past and the future; 12 Monkeys is one of the greatest and most accomplished sci-fi films of all time. I recommend anyone to watch it before a virus kills us all !

Rating: 4 out of 5 (great)

Note: Initially I had 125 films left to watch of the TOP 250 of IMDB. I have now seen 5 of the films and I have reviewed three. Expect a couple of reviews in the coming days exploring “Gran Torino” and the classic “Casablanca”.

Niels