Thursday, April 27, 2006

Movie Review: Flight 93

U.S. Release Date: 1/30/06 (TV)
Running Time: 1:30
Rated: PG (Violence, emotional depiction of hijack situation)
Cast: Brennan Elliott, Kendall Cross, Ty Olsson, Monnae Michaell, April Telek, Laura Mennell, Jerry Wasserman, Gwynyth Walsh, Jacqueline Ann Steuart, Karen Holness, Marilyn Norry, Kirsten Williamson

Director: Peter Markle
Producer: Delia Fine, David Gerber
Screenplay: Nevin Schreiner
Music: Velton Ray Bunch
Studio: Fox Television Studios

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9/11/01 will most definitely be “a day [along with 12/7/41] that will live in infamy.” The events of this tragic day have deeply scarred every American citizen. However, amidst the catastrophic occurrences of September 11th, an unbounded sense of hope emerged and strengthened the U.S. as a country united. In particular, this hope was found in the heroic actions of the 45 passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93.

On that fateful day, 45 people climbed aboard United Airlines Flight 93 unbeknownst that it would soon become a terrorist weapon. These courageous souls were high-jacked, and as they learned of the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, they quickly attempted to regain control of the plane in order to prevent another terrorist attack on the nation’s Capital. Prior to crashing in Somerset County, PA, nearly every passenger made a connection with a loved one—expressing their love and saying, “Goodbye” for the last time.

In particular, two connections are emotionally arresting—with one being when Deena Burnett (Kendall Cross) tries to call the authorities once she learns of the turmoil that her husband, Tom (Jeffrey Nordling), is enduring. The other is when Todd Beamer (Brennan Elliott) recites the Lord’s Prayer with a Verizon 911 employee.

As a made for TV movie, Flight 93 is a diamond in the rough. As a tribute to the plane’s passengers, crew, and their families, it is a venerable motion-picture. However, as a gut-wrenching, suspenseful, and dramatic motion-picture, Flight 93 comes up a bit short in measuring up to its Universal counterpart (United 93)—mainly due to its choppy closing and its lackluster special effects.

Instead of issuing a climax saturated with a dramatic sense of enlightenment, Flight 93’s conclusion drops the majority of the intensity that came before. Its point-of-view shot from an on-looking farmer, followed by a puff of black smoke and an obvious CGI crater, comes off as a weak cop-out compared to the brilliance of the conclusion of Universal Picture Studios’ United 93. Plus, the mere fact that the stewardess’ food cart – that the passengers used to rush the cockpit – is pictured as withstanding the impact of the crash, yet the body of the plane is completely destroyed, is borderline preposterous.

Nonetheless, with its faults, the A&E TV special, Flight 93, is an unforgettable ride and a powerful journey that is both respectful and tactful towards the brave it represents. All-in-all, Flight 93 is recommended viewing (in cohesion with the theatrical release, United 93) for every American; it’s worth every dime and the time invested. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Monday, April 17, 2006

Movie Review: Rear Window (1954)

U.S. Release Date: 1954
Running Time: 1:53
Rated: PG (Mature themes, violence)
Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelley, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes, based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich
Music: Franz Waxman
Studio: Universal Pictures

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For some, Rear Window is Hitchcock’s leading legacy. For others, it is merely one of his better films. Regardless, Rear Window is an intense exercise in suspense and an ardent observation of Hitchcock’s sterling talent. With a jam-packed plot and enough moments of voyeurism to muster up concentrated feelings of privacy violation, Rear Window calls for the title of a “must-experience” rather than a “must-see.”

L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is a magazine photographer who has been confined to a wheelchair to allow for his broken leg to recuperate. With a set of large windows and a telephoto lens, Jeffries is inclined to watch over his neighborhood’s happenings. Several apartments are visible, yet one specific tenant catches Jeffries’ eye.

Once Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), a traveling jewelry salesman, begins to engage in suspicious behavior, Jeffries becomes convinced that this man murdered and then dismembered his wife. As the clues continue to pile, Jeffries’ love interest, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelley), who at first is a skeptic, quickly becomes a partnered sleuth. From there, the mystery and the romance simultaneously fuse in a memorable twenty-minute climax.

The surprising thing about Rear Window is that, more than anything, the seemingly-minute details remain vivid—for instance, a glowing cigar from afar and the playful meanderings of the ivory-tickling neighbor. Likewise, the film’s idiosyncratic characters stand out just as much as the stellar leads. Every character in the script finds a way to nudge their persona into the back of your mind and force you to recall them at a later date.

Even so, Grace Kelley plays her part with grace and charm. She is a strikingly beautiful, insanely seductive, and an immensely talented actress. Meanwhile, James Stewart proves why he is one of the finest actors to emerge from the thirties. Between this performance and his work in Vertigo, Hitchcock was arguably capable of bringing out his best.

For any viewer who wants to dip into the mystery and majesty of Hitchcock’s work, Rear Window presents an obvious option. It puts Hitchcock’s capability behind a camera on full display. Among the lighting, score, camera angles, and the psychology of drawing a fine line between being a voyeur and a Good Samaritan, all facets of the film are absolutely flawless.

Whether you have previously viewed this masterpiece or not is immaterial; you will never leave your seat disappointed. When Burr’s character approaches Stewart’s, it will surely send a shiver down your spine—time and time again. Furthermore, the handicap of the main character inhibits your facility to remain calm and adds to the urgent claustrophobia.

Single-handedly, Rear Window fulfills the fantasies of the voyeur in us all. It champions on subtlety, peculiarity, and mystery, and at the same time, it is an elixir designed to combat any ounce of ennui. It is suspenseful, masterful, and artful. Above all, it encompasses the unreserved virtuosity of Hitchcock in one efficient feeding. (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Movie Review: North by Northwest

U.S. Release Date: 7/17/59
Running Time: 2:16
Rated: PG (Mild profanity, mild violence)
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Philip Ober, Martin Landau

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Studio: MGM

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With the release of films like Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window, Hitchcock quickly earned the title, “The Master of Suspense.” North by Northwest furthers the notion behind this moniker and unravels a thread comprised of not only suspense, but also romance, comedy, and action. While most would agree that North by Northwest is not Hitchcock’s most mind-boggling effort, it is one of his most complete. Expansive in plot and broad in breadth, North by Northwest is a genre-bending, stylized journey that travels steady like a train—definite in its direction and confident in its destination.

Mr. Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is a busy Manhattan advertising executive, whose chiseled jaw and polished look perfectly compliment his frenzied, yet sarcastic, demeanor. After stealing a cab from a “Good Samaritan” and ordering his secretary to buy an expensive box of chocolates for his heartbroken ex, Roger attends a sit-down business dinner. However, when he leaves the table to send a telegram, two thugs hold him at gunpoint, force him into the back of a car, and take him meet a man named Lester Townsend (James Mason). Lester, and all else, mistake Thornhill to be a man named George Kaplan. Thornhill informs the mend that they are mistaken, but they persist. Soon, Thornhill tries the identity switch on for size, but he receives far more than he had bargained for—including his face on every paper – wanted for murder – and an amorous blonde named Eve Candle (Eva Marie Saint).

In viewing North by Northwest, it is entirely apparent why Hitchcock is push-pinned as one of America’s finest directors. Between the sarcastic comedy, the light sensuous romance, and the definitive action, it is obvious that Hitchcock knows what buttons to press, at the most opportune time. For instance, his camera work with the drunk-driving scene is utterly superb, while his choice of shot post-murder is entirely effective; both scenes bottle-up the tone of the piece like no other. Furthermore, Hitchcock’s placement of the opening credits – parallel to the buildings – are stupendous an undoubtedly an inspiration for David Fincher’s Panic Room.

Originally titled, “The Man on Lincoln’s Nose,” North by Northwest was a film that happened to be crafted around its Mount Rushmore climax. Nonetheless, North by Northwest is more famous for its crop-duster sequence, which even makes the non-agoraphobics fearful of wide-open spaces. Nevertheless, that is the beauty associated with North by Northwest; there is something to clamor over around each and every turn. Be it the erotic romance (between a machismo male and a fiery female), the pre-James Bond action/suspense, or the Hitchcockian token in which each set of number mentioned sum to 13, North by Northwest is one of the great films of the ‘50’s. (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006