Hello readers! It’s literally been years since I’ve written anything under the Queued Up banner. My grand experiment worked for a while, but was ultimately abandoned. I’m bringing this blog back for one reason - James Bond. I got the 50th anniversary BluRay set for Christmas and just finished watching every James Bond movie. I’m a Bond nut, but it had been a while since I’d seen most of them.
Because I invested so much time, I felt that I had to do something to mark the end of my marathon. If only so that I can have something to show for my laziness. So I figured you, my former film buff readers, would be the least annoyed at my presentation of:
James Bond: From Worst to Best (A Complete Ranking of All 23 Official 007 Movies)
23. Die Another Day (2002) - They say you’re always partial to your first James Bond. That’s definitely true in my case (as you’ll see later). Pierce Brosnan is kind of the perfect Bond: the swagger of Connery, the humor of Moore, the edge of Dalton and Craig. But he got the part about five years too late. By this movie (his fourth and last), he was too old. Throw in ridiculous gadgets (invisible car!), horrifically bad CGI, shameful amounts of product placement and a forgettable villain and you get the worst Bond ever. Sorry, Pierce.
22. Moonraker (1979) - Bond! In! Space! Listen, I don’t think Roger Moore is the worst Bond. But he made a lot of the worst Bond movies. The great Bond movies thrive on their originality. Moonraker was rushed into production to capitalize on the Star Wars craze. It’s ridiculously over the top and marks the point where the Moore films turned irreversibly towards stupid humor and over-the-top gadgets. Really bad.
21. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) - aka Sean Connery’s last Bond. The producers knew they were in trouble after the George Lazenby fiasco (see #7) and were able to lure Connery back with lots of cash. And it shows. Connery is way too old, out of shape, and basically sleepwalks through the movie. Most of the story is set in Vegas and the campiness practically bleeds off the screen. A very sad way for Connery to say goodbye to the (official) 007 films.
20. Octopussy (1983) - Worst title, that’s for sure. This is the movie where Roger Moore officially becomes too old for the part. Plus, his efforts to turn James Bond into a clown culminate with a scene in this movie where James Bond literally becomes a clown. Ugh.
19. Quantum of Solace (2008) - Daniel Craig’s two stellar Bond films sandwich this formless mess, his second outing as 007. The script for this film was rushed to completion due to the 2007 writers’ strike and it shows. There’s not much of a plot, characters appear and disappear with no explanation - it’s basically just a pastiche of action scenes. Plus, this easily has the worst Bond theme song ever.
18. A View to a Kill (1985) - Oh man, Roger Moore is so old in this movie. He was 58. 58! The Duran Duran theme song is awesome, Christopher Walken’s a good villain, and there’s a good fight on top of the Golden Gate Bridge. Otherwise, it’s a bunch of campy humor and obvious stunt doubles for Moore, who, I will repeat, was playing James Bond at almost 60 years old.
17. The Living Daylights (1987) - Timothy Dalton got a raw deal. This movie was written for Roger Moore, so Dalton is forced to deliver horribly corny jokes (not his specialty). But the writers also tried to play to Dalton’s strengths and give it an edge, and the combination doesn’t work. There’s some great action, but a too-convoluted plot and forgettable villains make for a very low-key debut for Dalton.
16. For Your Eyes Only (1981) - The least offensive of the later Roger Moore films. The producers actually scaled back the gadgetry after complaints that Moonraker was too cartoonish. There’s nothing really wrong with this one. Just not much to remember either.
15. Live and Let Die (1973) - Roger Moore’s debut Bond film hasn’t aged well. The series tries to capitalize on the blaxploitation trend and comes off looking horribly dated in the process. Moore does begin to carve out his niche, though, and Jane Seymour makes a great Bond girl. Bonus points for Yaphet Kotto’s death by exploding air pellet and Paul McCartney’s kick-ass theme song.
14. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) - Pierce Brosnan’s second turn as 007 defines mediocre. Jonathan Pryce makes a campy villain, but nothing much stands out about this one apart from some great action sequences.
13. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) - Moore’s second Bond film is much-maligned but I actually like it. Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga is a memorable villain, Herve Villechaize’s Nick Nack is a great henchman, there’s an island base, cool gadgets, a space laser. What’s not to like? Apart from the loathsome character of J.W. Pepper, a redneck sheriff who thankfully never again popped up again in a Bond film.
12. Thunderball (1965) - This is often lumped in as a classic Bond film simply because it has Sean Connery and it was hugely successful. Watch it again. It’s actually pretty…boring. But great action saves the day - the underwater sequences still hold up.
11. Licence to Kill (1989) - Another much-maligned entry, this was Timothy Dalton’s second and final Bond film. Most people knock it for being too dark, but given the direction the franchise has taken, I’d argue that it was ahead of its time. Unfortunately, Dalton wouldn’t get another crack at playing 007 and cementing his legacy.
10. Dr.No (1962) - The very first James Bond film is definitely iconic (it contains Connery’s first and most famous “Bond. James Bond.”) but it’s also not very compelling. The formula was still being perfected, so the action is bookended with expository scenes that often slow things down to a crawl. Still, it is a fantastic preview of what’s to come.
9. From Russia with Love (1963) - The second Bond film brings together more of the elements that have made the Bond films iconic. Q and his gadgetry make their first appearances. Robert Shaw plays Red Grant, the first great Bond henchman. We’re introduced to Blofeld and his white cat. In all, a solid entry that announces that Bond is here to stay.
8. You Only Live Twice (1967) - This is the Bond film that everyone parodies. Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld is essentially Dr. Evil, complete with scar, Nehru jacket, and hollowed out volcano lair. The scale of this movie is immense and Connery gives his last great performance as James Bond. He would leave the series for the first time after this movie.
7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) - This is the best James Bond story of all the films to date. Bond falls in love, gets married, then loses the love of his life. It informs his character for the rest of the series. Unfortunately, first-time Bond George Lazenby isn’t cut out for the job. It’s not his fault. He was facing an impossible task in replacing Sean Connery. He isn’t helped by the horrifically dated mod 60’s style. Or the fact that he never reprised the role. Of all the Bond films that could be remade, this is the best candidate.
6. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) - The only truly great Roger Moore Bond film. Carly Simon’s theme song is one of the series’ best. The action is great, most notably Bond’s now-legendary Union Jack parachute jump. Richard Kiel’s Jaws is one of the two or three best Bond henchmen of all time. The Bond girls are sexy, Moore is at his most charmingly witty, and Karl Stromberg’s world domination plot is all you could ask for from a Bond villain. Roger Moore’s high water mark, bar none.
5. Goldeneye (1995) - Pierce Brosnan’s debut Bond is also one of his best. He was born to play James Bond and it shows. Sean Bean proves a worthy adversary as 007’s friend-turned-foe. And Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp gives the series an iconic villainess and an iconic character name. Solid from start to finish, Goldeneye brought Bond back from the (near) dead.
4. The World Is Not Enough (1999) - This Bond movie is almost universally hated. I love it. Maybe it’s because I have a soft spot for Brosnan, but all the elements for a great Bond movie are here for me. The opening boat chase is possibly the best action sequence in any Bond movie. Robert Carlyle’s villain Renard has a great backstory (he has a bullet lodged in his brain and can’t feel pain). The only weak spot is Denise Richards, who is truly horrible as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones. But her ridiculous character name also provides the best closing line in any Bond movie ever. I’ll let you discover it for yourself.
3. Skyfall (2012) - Granted, this one is freshest in my mind, so it could fluctuate over time. But the top three movies on this list all transcend the sliding scale of judging these movies as “Bond films.” They’re just great movies. Although about 20 minutes too long, Skyfall is just a fantastic movie. Daniel Craig really owns the role of James Bond at this point. And Javier Bardem is one of the all-time great Bond villains.
2. Casino Royale (2006) - Craig’s debut Bond film reintroduced the character to modern audiences without alienating the existing fans of 007. Again, this is just a great movie, period.
1. Goldfinger (1964) - Hands down, the best 007 adventure of all time. Everything is there: a fantastic villain, kick-ass gadgets (including the debut of Bond’s Astin Martin, complete with ejector seat), snappy dialogue, beautiful women (Pussy Galore!), the greatest henchman ever (Oddjob and his killer bowler hat), Sean Connery at his best, and the most famous line in James Bond history (“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”). If you haven’t seen a Bond movie, this is the place to start.
So there you go. If you’ve read this far, you’re as sick in the head as I am. Here’s to 50 years of 007 - and hopefully 50 more.
Hey guys, just wanted to let you know I haven’t given up on this or forgotten about it. I just started a new job, so my free time is not as bountiful as it once was. But I’ll still be watching and reviewing movies every chance I get. Thanks for sticking with me. And keep those suggestions coming!
The September Issue (2009)
Directed by: R.J. Cutler
I’m a sucker for documentaries that cover things I know nothing about. And I’m an even bigger sucker for documentaries about people with outsized personalities. So I relished the idea of watching “The September Issue,” a doc that follows ‘Vogue’ editor Anna Wintour as she and her staff prepare the 2007 Fall Issue of the magazine. In the fashion world, this single issue is the trendsetter for the entire season.
Wintour is best known by non-fashionistas like me as the inspiration for Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada.” And while she’s not quite the bitch-on-wheels that was portrayed in that film, it’s easy to see where Wintour’s reputation for being difficult comes from. She is a one-woman army on the front lines of the fashion war. What she likes becomes the hottest new trend. What she doesn’t like is of little consequence because it will never even sniff relevance. Designers like Oscar De la Renta and Jean-Paul Gaultier, people who have often built fashion empires from the ground up, live in fear of this woman.
I come from the school of thought that it’s rarely okay to be a dick to people. Or whatever the least-offensive female equivalent of ‘dick’ would be. Living in LA, it’s an issue I often confront. I really don’t think there’s a level of talent or importance that a person can reach that justifies a lack of simple human courtesy. And that’s what Anna Wintour lacks more than anything. She’s not actively mean or petulant. But she wants things her way. No compromise, no discussion. Her vision is the final one and the only one that matters. If you don’t agree with that, you won’t last long in Wintour’s world.
This opens up both the central conflict and the greatest missed opportunity of the film. The other central figure in the world of ‘Vogue’ is Grace Coddington, the magazine’s creative director. She and Anna started working at the magazine on the same day, so Grace has the seniority to be the only person to disagree with the Great Wintour. But at the end of the day, Anna is the boss and Grace has to do what she says. And you can see it eating away at her.
This angle, more than a lot of the focus on the day-to-day operations at the magazine, would have made for a much more fascinating documentary. I wanted to know more about these two. More about their backgrounds. How Wintour was able to rise to the top. Grace is a former model who abandoned her career after a car crash required her to have plastic surgery. There’s a lot of emotional mileage there that’s left untouched.
Still, “The September Issue” is a fascinating look into the world of fashion. It really brought home the concept of compartmentalization to me. The world of haute couture is something that doesn’t affect the daily lives of 99% of humanity. But these people treat it like life and death. Never an ounce of acknowledgement that it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things.
But isn’t that how we all live our lives? Don’t we all have something that we’re passionate about, regardless of its overall relevance? I approach making five-minute internet comedy videos like it’s a professional enterprise. Does that make me wrong? No. It gives me something to get excited about, something to occupy my time, to put a part of myself into. Same with this blog. Who cares if a video I make will only be seen by a small live crowd or a scattered group of internet strangers? They’re still taking time out of the day to watch something I made. I know that most of my 80 or so subscribers probably won’t read this. I’m pretty sure that at least half them think that being 27 makes me ‘old.’ But I like the comments I get, the suggestions and questions. It makes me feel like I’m contributing. To what, I don’t know. But this is my little piece of the world. So it’s easy to see how someone like Anna Wintour will fight to protect their turf, manners be damned.
A little courtesy, though. That’s all I’m saying. It goes a long way.
Hey, look! It’s our new rating system, the Murray! My thanks to the Hudson for its long weeks of service.
kakypants asked: Hey Dan!
Are all the movies you review films you have never seen before? Love the blog, thinking of recommendations!
Yes! I found myself stuck in a rut watching movies I’d seen many times over, so I resolved to only watch the ones I’d never seen before. Good to have a new friendly follower! Look forward to your recommendations.
As I mentioned before, we’ve reached the 100 review milestone. In addition to giving you my thanks, I thought I’d also give you a Top 10/Bottom 5 of what I’ve watched so far. These rankings are not based solely on how I rated the films. Just are the ones I’d pop in again and watch now or (conversely) have the most desire never to see ever again. Thanks again and enjoy!
1. The Conversation (1974)
2. Days of Heaven (1978)
3. The Last Picture Show (1971)
4. Five Easy Pieces (1970)
5. Say Anything… (1989)
6. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
7. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
8. Hoop Dreams (1994)
9. Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
10. (tie) The Lives of Others (2006)/Cape Fear (1991) (I just couldn’t leave either one out)
1. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008)
2. Don’t You Forget About Me (2009)
3. Obsessed (2009)
4. Kurt & Courtney (1998)
5. Seven Pounds (2008)
Written and Directed by: Adrienne Shelly
We did it! We cracked triple digits! I’m working on a brief round-up to commemorate this milestone, but I’d just like to thank all of you who take time out of your day to read these reviews, especially the ones who have been here since the beginning and have sent me some excellent suggestions. I hope you’ll stick around for the 67 more movies I have left in my queue - and for what’s to come after that. I have some exciting ideas.
“Waitress” was an indie darling in 2007. But its buzz was also sadly tinged with the tragic death of writer/director Adrienne Shelly, who was senselessly murdered before the film was released. Any untimely death is a tragedy, but Shelly’s is even more tragic because this film, her third, is a funny and well-crafted comedy. It’s a real shame that we won’t get to see any more of her work.
Keri Russell stars as Jenna, a waitress at a rural America pie cafe. In addition to serving customers, Jenna also specializes in inventing and baking the best pies around. Her dreams of using her talents to open her own pie shop are kept in check by her husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), an insecure, mean-spirited man who insists that he be the only thing that Jenna is focused on. Earl isn’t the textbook abusive husband that often populates films like this. He’s actually rather pathetic, a small man who relishes wielding control over the only thing he can - his wife.
Early in the film, Jenna learns that she’s pregnant, something she’s neither prepared for nor particularly happy about, most of all because a baby would squash any hopes she has of escaping Earl’s grasp. Her best friends and confidantes are also waitresses, the brassy, in-your-face Becky (Cheryl Hines) and the mousy Dawn, played by Shelly. She also gets life advice from the pie shop’s owner Joe, mainly because Joe is so ornery that Jenna is the only person who will tolerate him. Joe is played by the great Andy Griffith, in one of my favorite performances of the movie.
Jenna’s pregnancy sends her to the town’s new OB/GYN, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). He’s a shy, nervous man, but not shy enough to hide his instant crush on Jenna. Soon, the two of them are engaged in a loving, passionate affair. But with Jenna’s due date looming, combined with the fact that they’re cheating on their spouses, they soon have to confront their own realities and decide if happiness is worth the destruction it will wreak on both of their lives.
“Waitress” takes a while to get going, but once it does, it really clicks. Russell and Fillion make a cute couple. There are two types of movie romances. The kind that make you angry because real life is nothing like what you’re seeing on screen. And the ones that make you kind of sad because you wish you could experience the kind of romance that the characters have. Jenna and Dr. Pomatter’s relationship is the latter. I guess I’m kind of exposing my single guy status here.
But beneath the sweet romance is a layer of darkness. The fact remains that both of these characters are having an affair, one that will have drastic consequences if they’re ever found out. This threat hovers around them constantly. And these characters aren’t shallow or oblivious. They’re both aware that their actions have consequences.
With all these issues floating around (Jenna’s pregnancy, her shattered marriage, the affair), a tidy resolution would be almost impossible. But the biggest flaw in “Waitress” is Shelly’s attempt to provide just that. All of the storylines are neatly wrapped up in the last ten minutes of the film, including a true deus ex machina courtesy of Andy Griffith’s character. I found myself disappointed, mainly because Shelly had done so well at making these characters real and sympathetic. The pat ending seemed like a cop-out.
But at its best, “Waitress” is charming and often very funny. There’s a bit of an overload in the down-home wisdom department, but in a movie where pies are used as a metaphor for life, I guess that’s to be expected. This is a warm, fun movie. And even though Adrienne Shelly’s voice was prematurely silenced, this film is a fitting way to remember her.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)
Written by: Earl Barret, Arne Sultan, Eliot Wald, Andrew Kurtzman and Gene Wilder
Directed by: Arthur Hiller
I’ve often wondered if Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor would have been an even more famous comic duo if Pryor had been allowed to play the Cleavon Little role in “Blazing Saddles.” Pryor was Mel Brooks’ first choice, but he was rejected because of his mercurial personality. A Wilder/Pryor pairing could have cemented them as all-time greats, giving the two of them a headlining role in one of the greatest comedies of all time. But then again, Wilder was never really supposed to be in “Blazing Saddles” either (he replaced Gig Young), so maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. As it stands, they’re still pretty great together.
“See No Evil, Hear No Evil” was the next-to-last onscreen pairing of Wilder and Pryor. They would both largely disappear from the Hollywood scene soon after. Wilder plays Dave Lyons (no relation to this Dave Lyons), a deaf shopkeeper. Pryor plays Wally Karue, a blind man with a gambling problem and in need of a job. Both men try to hide their handicaps, usually without much success. This seems like a depressing setup, but both characters are generally well-adjusted,
I apologize if this seems a little rushed from here on out. I lost most of my first draft of this review to a brief, weather-related power outage in LA. This city’s failing infrastructure has now impacted you all.
Wally eventually ends up working in Dave’s shop, just in time for both of them to witness a murder. Dave saw the murderer but heard none of the crime. Wally heard the whole thing but didn’t see anyone. Naturally, they’re both hauled in and wrongfully accused. Apparently the NYPD is not handicapped-friendly. Soon, they’re on the lam, running from the police and the real murderers, the femme fatale Eve (Joan Severance) and her slimy partner Kirgo (a fully-haired Kevin Spacey, doing some form of British accent).
The pairing of Dave and Wally results in many predictable comedy scenarios. They turn out to be formidable fist-fighters - Wally’s the muscle, Dave’s the instructor. And what they lack in driving skill, they make up for in ingenuity. Many of these sequences are funny, such as Wally’s attempts to relay an officer’s instructions during a mug shot photo session. Some fall flat, like an extended bar fight sequence that goes on far too long.
But the real weakness of the movie is the plot. It’s a real snoozer involving a rare coin that’s actually some sort of microchip in disguise which does something that you don’t really care about or need to know. Spacey and Severance are stock villains. And there’s a twist involving a crime boss that’s not really necessary. One look at the long list of writers tells you everything you need to know. A couple probably came up with the ‘story,’ a couple probably wrote a few jokes and Wilder almost assuredly came in to write to his and Pryor’s strengths.
Unfortunately the movie is weighted too much toward the boring plot and overly manic comedy centerpieces and not enough toward letting Pryor and Wilder do what they do best: be themselves. There is a clear division between the stock situations and jokes provided by the script and the flashes of brilliance brought by two amazing comedians. These flashes are enough to merit a weak recommendation, but are otherwise drowned out by the mediocrity of everything else.
Both lead actors would soon experience tragedy in their lives. Pryor’s health began to deteriorate due to multiple sclerosis. Wilder’s wife, Gilda Radner, passed away around the time this film was released. But “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” stands as part of a tribute to the comedic genius of these two men. Both achieved greatness. This is but a small part of that achievement.
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)
Written and Directed by: Woody Allen
And now we go from one of modern cinema’s most reclusive artists, Terrence Malick, to one of its most prolific, Woody Allen. Allen has made 40 films in the last 44 years, with two more on the way. With production like that, there are bound to be some stinkers. But Allen has also made some masterpieces. So where does “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” fall on the spectrum?
This film is perhaps most notable for being Allen’s first collaboration with Mia Farrow, an arrangement that worked out beautifully for a while and then ended horrifically (at least for their personal lives). It’s also worth noting that this marks one of the few times that Allen has acted in a film as part of an ensemble, not the lead actor.
Allen plays Andrew, a Wall Street broker who’s also an aspiring inventor. It’s turn-of-the-century America and Andrew has escaped to his summer home with his wife Adrian (Mary Steenburgen). Joining the couple are Andrew’s skirt-chasing doctor friend Maxwell (Tony Roberts), his oversexed nurse Dulcy (Julie Hagerty), an arrogant college professor named Leopold (Jose Ferrer) and his soon-to-be-wife Ariel (Mia Farrow).
Despite the setting, this is no period piece. It could really take place anytime. The center pieces of the film are the same themes that Allen is known for revisiting: sexual dysfunction, fidelity, mortality and the nature of true love. All of the characters in this film are grappling with one (or all of these issues). Adrian and Andrew have lost the spark in their marriage. Maxwell falls for Ariel. Leopold lusts for Dulcy. Andrew also struggles with his feelings for Ariel, a former flame. And almost everyone, at some point, tries to shtup someone other than the person they should be shtupping.
All of this plays out in a quasi-magical manner. Aside from the title, the film also borrows Shakespeare’s fondness of for ghosts and enchantment. There’s even a touch of the fantastic. Andrew’s inventions include a flying bicycle (used to much comic effect) and a lantern that can project images from the past and future.
But the real focus of the film is the six miserable people at the center of it. Allen is known for his portrayals of sexually frustrated neurotics, but everyone gets to join in on the fun this time. Hollywood legend has it that Allen wrote the script for this film in two weeks, under pressure from the studio to make a hit. Judged by that standard, the film is a rousing success.
But it also lacks weight. As fun as it is (and it is fun, and funny, at regular intervals), it’s also insubstantial. Woody Allen’s best films are unforgettable. His worst films are ones you’d like to forget. This one might prove difficult to remember. There’s nothing really wrong with it, other than a noticeably rushed, somewhat unsatisfying ending. The performances are strong and Allen’s brand of humor is timeless. But it’s the kind of film that leaves your consciousness as quickly as it entered. Like one of the characters at the end, it simply drifts away into the night to frolic with the others.
Days of Heaven (1978)
Written and Directed by: Terrence Malick
Suggested by: pluimer
This movie, more than any other I’ve watched so far, is really challenging my entire rationale for how I rate what I watch. I’ll explain more in a bit, but just know upfront that it’s for good reasons, not bad.
This is the first Terrence Malick film I’ve ever seen. My cinephile friends might disown me for that, but that’s why I started this project in the first place: to finally get around to seeing things I’ve wanted to watch for a long time. The good news is that it will be easy for me to finish watching Malick’s filmography - he only has four features to his name (with two more on the way, supposedly).
“Days of Heaven” is a film that belongs in a museum, not because it’s old but because it’s unquestionably a work of art. It is the most sublimely photographed film I’ve ever seen. I say ‘photographed’ because to say that the film was ‘shot’ seems like a cheap, inadequate way of describing the artistry of the work. Cinematographers Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler (uncredited as such), under Malick’s direction, have crafted a film where every single frame is worthy of being printed, framed and hung on the wall.
The story of the film concerns Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams), two young lovers who travel around the pre-Depression-era U.S. in search of work. Bill also cares for his young sister Linda (Linda Manz), who narrates the film. The three of them find work on a wheat farm in Texas, which is run by a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard) who is also lonely and suffering from a terminal illness.
Bill is an idealistic but bitter young man whose dreams of finding prosperity and importance have passed him by. When he learns of the farmer’s illness, he convinces Abby to accept his romantic overtures, in the hope that when he dies (which he believes will happen very soon), the wandering trio can finally settle down and enjoy the dead man’s wealth. But this is no fairy tale. The farmer is no tyrant. Bill is no Prince Charming. And, in the farmlands of north Texas, there are no fairy tale endings.
The four major characters in the film are Bill, Abby, the Farmer and Linda. But Malick makes the farm into a character unto itself. It stretches outward for what seems like miles and we’re often treated to long, pastoral shots of workers spread across massive wheat fields, usually lit by the setting sun and an endless horizon. The farmhouse, a great gothic monstrosity, seems both permanent and out of place, almost as if it dropped from the sky and settled onto the fields below. The house represents Bill’s obsession, the light at the end of the pier to his Gatsby. Often, Bill and Abby are framed with the house behind them, always looming, the sign of their greatest hopes and a harbinger of what’s to come.
Gere, of course, would go on to become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men. His performance is understated, but his rage and frustration is always evident, bubbling under the surface. In particular his relationship with the Farmer, who believes Bill is Abby’s brother, is both complicated and simplistic. Both men eventually figure out how much the other one knows and circle each other cautiously, like two gladiators waiting for the opportunity to strike. Brooke Adams, as Abby, is strikingly beautiful and she plays the conflict her character requires equally as beautifully. I was surprised to find out that she didn’t go on to greater stardom.
But the unsung hero of the film is Linda Manz. As Bill’s kid sister, she provides the glue that holds everything together. Her voiceover is soft and innocent, very matter-of-fact. Linda’s a quiet girl, but she knows more than anyone gives her credit for. In a way, the entire film is seen through her eyes: non-judgmental but concerned. The final act of the film, which could have been pure melodrama, is simply laid out, the way a young girl her age would likely tell the story.
But the real star of the film is the film itself. And that’s where I find myself wrestling with how to rate it. Generally, a five-star film (for me) must be perfect in every aspect: the writing, the look, the editing, the music. “Days of Heaven” is well-written and well-acted, yes. But it’s perfectly made. It will get a high rating, regardless, but does it achieve absolute perfection?
Well, I’ve decided that the ‘perfection’ rationale kind of stinks. Is “Days of Heaven” a perfect movie? No. But the key thing I can’t ignore is that it takes advantage of the cinematic medium more gloriously than almost any other film I can remember. There’s a sequence toward the end involving a swarm of locusts and a raging fire that is as exhilarating as any cinematic work I’ve seen. And from beginning to end, “Days of Heaven” is so exquisitely made, so beautifully realized, that it’s almost beyond superlatives. And if that doesn’t deserve my highest rating, then what does?
The Changeling (1980)
Written by: William Gray and Diana Maddox
Directed by: Peter Medak
If I’m not mistaken, this movie is the Patient Zero of my Netflix queue. Way back in the 8th grade, a friend of mine told me that the scariest movie she’d ever seen was “The Changeling.” That stuck with me because I’m a loser and I remember such things. And I have no doubt that this movie has been in my queue since the beginning, perhaps 8 years or more. So does it live up to the hype?
Short answer: yes.
You can stop reading if that’s all you wanted to know. Continue reading for the long answer.
“The Changeling” stars George C. Scott as John Russell, a composer whose wife and young child are killed in a tragic accident. Looking to put the past behind him, John relocates to Seattle, where an enormous yet surprisingly unoccupied old creepy house is available for rent. Let’s see. Grieving husband and father. Big house with a history of strange occurrences. What could go wrong?
Yep, before long, John is being awakened by loud bangs, startled by faucets that turn themselves on and finds that some of the mirrors in his house have a strange way of exploding unexpectedly. But instead of lodging a very unfriendly complaint with his comely realtor (Trish Van Devere), John teams up with her and finds that the strange happenings might have something to do with a family secret that’s been hidden for decades.
I’m going to be honest - I’m kind of a moron. I popped “The Changeling” into the DVD player at around 1 AM. Needless to say, I did a couple of hours of unplanned reading before turning in for the night. This isn’t what I would a call a ‘horror’ movie. More like horror-ish. It’s also a drama, a mystery and often a thriller. But director Peter Medak knows how to push the creepy buttons. He’s one of those filmmakers who knows that real terror doesn’t come from cheesy special effects and cheap ‘gotcha!’ moments. It comes from little things - a child’s laugh echoing through an empty hall, a ball bouncing down the stairs, unexplained nois-holy shit did that door just move?!
Sorry. Still a little jumpy. Anyway, the real terror in this film comes from the unknown, which makes it effectively creepy enough to keep me up for a while. While the first half of the film deals mainly with the strange events in the house, the second half focuses on the mysteries of its former occupants. In particular, the family of a respected senator (Melvyn Douglas) and the real-life horrors that may have taken place decades earlier.
The investigatory parts of the movie listed towards boilerplate and tended to lose me a little bit, but the craftsmanship involved in making the rest of it kept me engaged. Sound, in particular, plays an integral role in the movie. And the little things, like a door slowly closing in an otherwise empty room, instill the entire film with a sense of not so much horror, but dread. That’s the stuff right there!
I don’t think “The Changeling” is the scariest film I’ve ever seen. But it’s one of the creepiest, made even more so by the weighty acting of George C. Scott. I enjoyed the hell out of it, if only because it’s a movie first and a horror thriller second. If you’re looking for a spooky movie to enjoy with all the lights off, “The Changeling” is the way to go.
Actually, you might want to leave one little light on.