The 39 Steps (1935) ****
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Apparently, this is the film that allowed Hitchcock to break through from directing B-level British films to future mainstream success. Decades before hits like Psycho, Vertigo and The Birds, Hitchcock clearly showed his potential as a director in this fun crime thriller. Similar to North by Northwest, The 39 Steps explores that old story about the man wrongly accused who must go to extreme lengths and fight overwhelming odds in order to vindicate himself and prove his innocence. No surprise, the plot is all over the place, and unfortunately, there are a few twists that are so far-fetched that I couldn’t forgive them. The first involves a convenient flock of sheep that stand in the middle of the road, allowing our protagonist to escape from the clutches of dangerous villains. The other has the same man break out of a police station by jumping through a front window. In this sequence, handcuffs are shown secured on his wrists, and then the camera switches to the front of the police station to see the man escape. How he got free in the first place is never shown. That being said, The 39 Steps is a whole lot of fun, with great performances by its two main characters played by Robert Donat and Madeline Carroll. The best scene in the film begins with the two of them handcuffed to each other in a hotel room. At this point, they can’t stand the sight of each other. The sexual chemistry between the two which comes across later during these scenes is therefore a welcomed surprise. Hitchcock’s direction is truly above and beyond what you’d expect from a film so modest. Even though The 39 Steps stands well on its own, I was most fascinated by the fact that I was watching a milestone in the development of possibly the greatest director of all time.
Labels: 1930s, Four Stars, Filmspotting Hitchcock
The Visitor (2008) *****
Directed by Thomas McCarthy
Richard Jenkins gives such an amazing performance that I will be sad if he does not receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. At this point, I believe it can go either way. Jenkins has been a reliable, talented character actor for a long time, and as such, it is breathtaking to witness a truly grand breakout performance. He plays a jaded professor who simply goes through the motions since his wife died. Early in the film, we see him updating the syllabus for his course by simply whiting out the semester and the year. He’s pretty much stuck on autopilot until he finds two illegal immigrants, who are also boyfriend and girlfriend, squatting in his
Labels: 2008, Five Stars, Drama
Kung Fu Panda (2008) ****
Directed by Mark Osborne & John Stevenson
What a charming animated film! This is another one of those underdog (or underpanda) stories about an eager hero who doesn’t believe in himself at first, but ultimately proves that he has what it takes to defeat the bad guy. The voice characterizations by Jack Black and others are a lot of fun, and refreshingly, there aren’t any musical numbers or trendy pop culture references. Also, I was treated to one of my favorite movie characters of the year—the noodle making duck who is the panda’s father. I might just have to get an action figure and place it next to my computer. Like WALL-E, Kung Fu Panda rests on the power of its story. Unlike WALL-E, however, the animation itself is disappointing. With so many animated films released each year, it’s hard to make them all as visually impressive as films like Toy Story or Finding Nemo, both of which took over three years to realize. The computerized animation looks too much as if it came all too quickly from a computer. If only another year was allowed in order to really make the animation awe its audience, then this could have been described as a timeless masterpiece. Still, it’s rare that movies come along more charming than Kung Fu Panda.
Labels: 2008, Four Stars, Animated Film
The Constant Gardener (2005) ****
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Rachel Weisz deservedly won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as an activist who takes on some dangerous and powerful enemies ultimately resulting in her death. Her husband, played by the great Ralph Fiennes, dedicates his life to finding out the reason why his wife was killed. There are two very different intentions at work in The Constant Gardener—one a spy thriller and the other an expose on some of the dehumanizing injustices in
Labels: 2005, Four Stars, Thriller, Drama, Wiseguy DB Marathon
Boy A (2008) **1/2
Directed by John Crowley
Boy A is an overdirected, pretentious art house joint with quite a bit going for it, and yet, it doesn’t ultimately deliver satisfaction to the viewer. Andrew Garfield’s role as a young man who must begin a new life with a new name after he is released from prison is a tricky one. The crime he committed as a young boy is truly heinous, resulting in the horrific death of a young girl. Therefore, if anyone finds out who he really is, then his second chance at a normal life is over.
Labels: 2008, Two and a Half Stars, Drama