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Old October 21 2010, 03:35 AM   #752
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Re: Movies Seen in 2010

233. A Fistful of Dollars [B+]
234. For a Few Dollars More [B+]
235. Deathwatch [B-]
236. Se7en [B+]
237. Wonder Bar [F]

A Fistful of Dollars: The first Italian Western directed by Sergio Leone (which is also the beginning of the genre as it has come to be known stylistically) is leaner than any other film he made, and as much as I love the "spaghetti" westerns he would direct afterwards, there's a certain appeal in a move that can get in and out in 100 minutes. The Eastwood character (named Joe here) is also harsher, with a more nihilistic attitude towards human life (he watches a pair of massacres without the thought of intervention) and no American co-star to temper his character's attitudes. He plays the two feuding families in the town against one another, watches them kill each other, and then finishes off Ramon and the last few who remain in the final reel. Only a bartender and the coffin maker are left as Eastwood rides out of town. This was certainly not your typical western.

For A Few Dollars More: This one is more colorful than its predecessor, and the relationship between Eastwood (called Manco here) and Lee Van Cleef (playing Colonel Mortimer) adds a note of levity, despite both characters being bounty killers. There's some silliness, though. Leone demonstrates that he has absolutely no idea what the effects of marijuana are, adding some unintentional comedy to scenes that want to be played serious. There's also a peculiar lack of blood in the repeated flashback where the young man in pristine white pajamas is murdered--the pajamas go without a scratch. Still, overall, it's a much more slick film and providing Eastwood with a few one-liners doesn't hurt at all.

Deathwatch: This peculiar prison drama from 1966 might be of some interest to sf fans, since it stars both Leonard Nimoy and Michael Forest (who played Apollo in a second season episode of STAR TREK), and was directed by Vic Morrow (who appeared, among many other things, in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, where he tragically was killed in an on-stage accident). It's based on a French stage play (if I'm not mistaken), and the staginess starts to show about half way through, but the performances are strong (Nimoy gets to stretch, but it is Forest who is the real standout) and the gritty, handheld black and white photography is very effective. Morrow allows some character flashbacks to interrupt (or co-exist, via long dissolves) with the action, however, so it's not completely locked into the location.

Se7en: Fincher's second film, in which he had more say an control, is a vast improvement over ALIEN 3. The constant rain, darkness, and grime that pervades everything (until the final sequence in the desert) is perfect. Morgan Freeman hits all the right notes as a homicide detective who is ready to retire, totally done with the awful city he lives in until a particularly nasty murder case appears. Brad Pitt is less effective, unfortunately. This was pretty early in his career, when he was still transitioning from character work to being a leading man. He's still a little broad, a little too naive, and a little too pretty for this character. It's not an awful performance, but it's not quite there. Still, it's a very effective modern noir and a touchstone for the genre since in terms of visual style. Also, Leland Orser is introduced partway through and doesn't become the murderer later on, so that automatically earns it points.

Wonder Bar: This Al Jolson-headed film works as a light comedy about a Paris nightclub with musical numbers (directed by the great Busby Berkeley) and humorous interludes between two older couples...for the first two-thirds, anyway. Then it ends with the most racist musical number I've ever seen, and it's one that goes way over the top, too. Hundreds of actors (old and young) appear in blackface along with Jolson (of course, in blackface, too) in a number about black[face] heaven. In case you didn't know, this mostly includes wild animals, watermelon, and fried chicken, each prominently on display in case you missed it. It's utterly appalling, and manages to trash any goodwill I felt towards the picture up to this point.
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