Day 38: Shane

Shane poster from IMDB

Shane poster from IMDB

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

45. Shane

From the opening scene I wished I could’ve seen Shane on the big screen. Shot in Technicolor, the film looks gorgeous from beginning to end and wound up winning an Academy Award for Cinematography for its beautiful panoramic and lush views of Wyoming.

Aside from the cinematography, I liked Shane, but didn’t love it. Perhaps if I had seen it upon its initial release, I would’ve enjoyed it. But, over 50 years later, it didn’t pack the punch that I’m sure it had in 1950s. Alan Ladd is good as Shane, the handsome stranger who rides into town, trying to leave his gunslinging ways behind him. The star of the movie for me, though, was Van Hefln as Joe Starrett, the hard-working homesteader fighting for his family. How interesting it would have been had Ladd and Heflin swtiched parts. Also noteworthy was Jack Palance (credited as Walter Jack Palance), who was awesome as the gunslinger Wilson; he’s menacing and a strong presence whenever he’s given screen time

The character of Starrett’s son Little Joe nearly ruined the film for me. He’s an annoying kid in an Annakin-Skywalker-in-Episode-I kind of way. Other reviews I’ve read talk about Little Joe being the audience’s way into the story; he represents the fresh set of eyes for this straight-forward Western. I thought he was a whiny brat at times.

The action scenes were terrific. Given the period it was released in, I’m sure audiences were thrilled by Shane. For me, this was a solid Western, but one in which its age is beginning to show.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

 

Day 34: Annie Hall

Annie Hall

Annie Hall

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

35. Annie Hall

I had mixed feelings about watching Annie Hall. I’m not a Woody Allen fan; the whole neurotic New Yorker schtick does nothing for me. Of course, his relationship with Soon-Yi doesn’t exactly endear me to him, either.

Still, I tried to keep an open mind about Annie Hall. Early on, it was all Woody and his neuroses; my eyes rolling in my head, looking at my watch. I was surprised at how often he broke the fourth wall; Frank Underwood would be proud. Allen’s character is a comedian and the film follows his exploits in love and his various relationships. There are a lot of clever lines and insights throughout the movie, but at times I felt like I was watching a stand-up act in the guise of a dramedy: people don’t actually talk like this, do they?

Fortunately, before I found myself questioning my cinematic quest, Diane Keaton shows up. She’s the perfect foil for Allen’s character; young, cute, and charming. Scenes appear to brighten up when she’s in them, offsetting the morose and miserable Allen. After watching and re-watching her in the Godfather series, I’d forgotten that she was more than the wife of Michael Corleone. Thanks to her role as Annie Hall (supposedly based on her true self), the film is bearable, even to a non-Woody-Allen-fan as myself.

Overall, I enjoyed Annie Hall. I loved the scenes of late ’70s New York and Los Angeles (Fatburger and Tail o’ the Pup!) and the cameos (Paul Simon, Jeff Goldblum, Carol Kane, Shelley Duvall, and Christopher Walken). For the most part it’s entertaining, if a bit grating at times, due to Allen’s presence. Not sure I’d include it in my Top 100 list, but I can see why it’s well-regarded. Just not by me.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Day 9: Movie Time

french_connection

93. The French Connection

As I wrote at the start of 2015, one of my goals this year is to watch all 100 of the AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile, but never committed to until now. I’m not watching them in any particular order, just whatever I’m in the mood for or have readily available.

Last night I fired up Netflix for the first film on my cinematic journey: William Friedkin’s The French Connection (No. 93 on the AFI list). I’d never watched the movie from beginning to end, just catching clips here and there over the years. Of course, I knew about The Chase, having seen it in various Hollywood retrospectives. It’s what everybody talks about and for good reason: it’s awesome and exciting.

The other thing that everybody talks about? Gene Hackman. He’s brilliant as Popeye Doyle and absolutely owns every scene he’s in. He’s racist, drinks too much, and obsessed with his case. Roy Scheider is solid as his partner Cloudy. Critics have raved about the chemistry between the two, but I feel like almost anyone could’ve been paired with Hackman; he’s that good.

According to film historians, the violence was cutting-edge at the time, but it’s tame by today’s standards. I loved how Friedkin went with a documentary feel to a lot of the movie. He captured a lot of the grittiness of early ’70s New York and it never felt like I was watching the action on a soundstage. I’m not sure why English subtitles weren’t added to the scenes in French; was it supposed to add mystery and intrigue? I just felt frustrated that I hadn’t done better in my college French classes.

Overall, I liked The French Connection. It’s a solid crime thriller with an anti-hero lead. Watch it for Hackman’s Oscar-winning performance and the exhilarating non-CGI car chase.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Day 2: At the Movies

Original Theatrical Star Wars Poster

Greatest. Movie. Ever.

Over the next 365 days, in addition to blogging every day, I’m going to watch every movie on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest American Films. I’ll write about each film I finish, sometimes a review or some trivia, but hopefully something more personal and interesting.

Why watch these 100 films? Well, I’m a cinegeek and my love of movies goes back to my childhood, when a little film called Star Wars changed my life. I remember standing in line with my parents at The Academy in Pasadena, California, years before the theater was chopped up into a multiplex. The Academy then was a magnificent palace for the cinema, with plush balconies and a ceiling so far away that it seemed to touch the sky.

I remember standing outside in line with my folks, eagerly awaiting my first true movie-going experience. Once the film began, I was mesmerized, joining the crowd to boo Darth Vader’s first appearance on screen and cheering two hours later when the Death Star was blown to smithereens.

Mostly, I remember how I jumped at any chance to Star Wars again; 22 times over the next few years, long before my family had a VHS or DVD player. Repeated viewings on Spike TV were light years away, so my elementary-school self ended up going with every friend and cousin I knew to watch George Lucas’ masterpiece.

Now here I am, a lifetime later, eagerly awaiting December 18th for the release of Episode VII. Instead of gorging myself on all things Star Wars in anticipation of The Force Awakens, I’m going to watch the other 99 non-Star-Wars films on the AFI list. It’s actually something I’ve wanted to do for years, but never committed to doing so. I have a handful of these movies on DVD and Blu-ray and I’ll use Netflix, Amazon Prime, and my local library to complete my quest. I’m hoping, though, to see more than a few of these classics at special screenings done occasionally at the old-time movie houses in L.A.

By my count, I’ve seen 45 of the films on this list and I’ve caught bits and pieces of another 20, but like my elementary-school self, I’m just as excited to watch a movie for the first time as I am for the 22nd time.

Notes:

1. The movie poster image above was taken from here.

2. There’s a small bit on the history of The Academy in Pasadena, CA, here.