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Archive for the ‘Mike Norton’s movie reviews’ Category

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by Mike Norton

In early twentieth century Vienna, a washed up concert pianist, Stefan Brand (Louis Jordan), emerges from the rain soaked streets into his apartment, after confirming a duel the next morning that would undoubtedly end in his death, to find a letter waiting for him. The first lines of the letter, read in voiceover by Joan Fontaine, state simply and grimly- “By the time you read this letter, I may already be dead”. Fontaine plays the titular woman sending the letter, Lisa, and her narration sets in motion the main plot of the film, told in flashback from Lisa’s point of view. What follows is an epic melodrama bursting at the seams with emotion, expressed evocatively by director Max Ophüls’ camera poetry and the complex screenplay from Howard Koch, based off the novella of the same name written by Stefan Zweig. It is one of the most acutely and devastatingly felt American romantic films of all time.

We first meet Lisa as a teenager in Vienna when a dashing new tenant moves into her apartment complex. It’s Stefan Brand, a successful and talented concert pianist, and Lisa quickly becomes entranced by the man, despite never coming into direct contact with him. She listens yearningly to his playing of the piano, which she describes in her voice over as the “happiest hours of my life”. If melodrama is a genre based on bottled up emotion, than Lisa represents the perfect melodrama heroine. Her passion for Stefan starts off innocently enough, but when her family moves to Lintz and sets her up to marry a sweet, if dull, Army Lieutenant, she flees back to Vienna to be with the man who she truly loves, even if he still doesn’t know she exists. (more…)

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by Mike Norton

It’s 1992, and New York City is bleeding. The streets are exhausted from having fought a war on drugs a decade earlier, and homicide rates, which peaked at the beginning of the decade, are still lingering around all-time high numbers. In Los Angeles, the notorious Rodney King riots were the culmination of pent up rage towards law enforcement that could be felt around the country. Cocaine, heroin, weed, whatever drugs you want, were spewed throughout the streets, no doubt fueling the murder rate and general unease of the community. Abel Ferrara’s film Bad Lieutenant captures this milieu, painting NYC as an oasis of sin and lost souls looking for redemption in all the wrong places. The type of place where throats are cut for the cocaine in the backseat, or nuns are raped, or teenage girls are killed in their cars, or teenage girls are sexually abused in their cars by bad cops. Unlike the New York of Ferrara’s earlier crime film, King of New York, which was presented more or less as a really big playground for one man to manipulate, the New York of Bad Lieutenant is a hell-on-earth wasteland.

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by Mike Norton

How does one begin to write about their favorite movie of all time? A better question might be why would anyone want to write about their favorite movie? Sam has basically given me free reign to write about whatever film I want and I do have some more films lined up that I could write about, but I can’t resist writing about Raging Bull, my favorite movie of all time, even if articulating just what I love about it would ruin my personal connection to it. Everyone has one a “favorite” movie, whether they admit it or not (at the very least, they have a handful of movies vying for the number one spot), and we’d be remiss if we denied the personal connection we have to our favorite films. For me, Raging Bull isn’t just another movie, as cliché as that sounds. Over the past two years since I first saw it, I’ve seen it nine times, and it continues to impact me and shape my life in ways that few other works of art have. Trying to judge it on an aesthetic level could obscure my personal connection to it, and vice versa; in this essay I will attempt to balance the two. Here goes nothing.

Raging Bull is about the life of Jake LaMotta, a famous boxer from the 1940s whose memoir of the same name became the basis for this film. Martin Scorsese directs, and Robert De Niro stars as LaMotta, famously gaining weight to portray LaMotta later in his life. It is in black and white, for practical reasons mostly, since the amount of blood would be, apparently, far too much to portray in color, but it also gives the film a raw, rugged feel. Joe Pesci plays Jake’s brother and manager, Joey, and Cathy Moriarty plays Jake’s second wife, Vickie. This was the first major acting role for both actors. (more…)

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by Mike Norton

Opening with a shot of a man and a woman at a bar with their backs turned to us establishes the realism of Vivre sa vie right off the bat. That woman is Nana (Anna Karina), an aspiring actress who is about to experience a downward spiral through society that happens in so many character study films. It’s apparent to the viewer here that Nana’s dreams of making it as an actress are just that. By refusing to shoot her in the way a conventional screen actress might be shot in an opening scene, and robbing her of her close up, Godard basically condemns Nana, setting forth her tragic character arch that is portrayed in 12 tableaux throughout the film. Indeed, this is a very self-reflexive film, subtly so, brimming with references to past movies, philosophy, and politics. It’s not as apocalyptic in its reinventing of cinema language as later Godard films would be since here Godard does take a good deal of interest in his main character, making Vivre sa vie one of his most humane films. Yet it’s also meta-reflexive, fascinatingly bringing reality to cinema and creating a new reality out of past cinema, while also showcasing the young auteur’s developing visual style and command over the sound design. If there’s any Godard film that makes for a good entry point in the director’s admittedly distancing filmography, it might be this. (more…)

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by Mike Norton

In early twentieth century Vienna, a washed up concert pianist, Stefan Brand (Louis Jordan), emerges from the rain soaked streets into his apartment, after confirming a duel the next morning that would undoubtedly end in his death, to find a letter waiting for him. The first lines of the letter, read in voiceover by Joan Fontaine, state simply and grimly- “By the time you read this letter, I may already be dead”. Fontaine plays the titular woman sending the letter, Lisa, and her narration sets in motion the main plot of the film, told in flashback from Lisa’s point of view. What follows is an epic melodrama bursting at the seams with emotion, expressed evocatively by director Max Ophüls’ camera poetry and the complex screenplay from Howard Koch, based off the novella of the same name written by Stefan Zweig. It is one of the most acutely and devastatingly felt American romantic films of all time.

We first meet Lisa as a teenager in Vienna when a dashing new tenant moves into her apartment complex. It’s Stefan Brand, a successful and talented concert pianist, and Lisa quickly becomes entranced by the man, despite never coming into direct contact with him. She listens yearningly to his playing of the piano, which she describes in her voice over as the “happiest hours of my life”. If melodrama is a genre based on bottled up emotion, than Lisa represents the perfect melodrama heroine. Her passion for Stefan starts off innocently enough, but when her family moves to Lintz and sets her up to marry a sweet, if dull, Army Lieutenant, she flees back to Vienna to be with the man who she truly loves, even if he still doesn’t know she exists. (more…)

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Dockland mauling in Kazan’s classic ‘On the Waterfront’

by Mike Norton

Hello Wonders readers! My name is Mike, and this is my first post ever on this site. A little background on me- I am 17 years old, and I love movies. I have been reading Wonders in the Dark for about 2 years now, and only this summer did I start commenting on the Monday Morning Diary posts (you may have also seen me pop up on Joel Bocko’s site ‘Lost in the Movies’, which I have been a frequent commenter on). Other miscellaneous info on me- I love hip-hop, and have been a hip-hop head way before I was a film lover, I am a health/fitness freak, and I love to read and write. The essay I penned below, on one of my favorite films, On the Waterfront,  was originally going to go up on a blog I plan to create sometime in the future, but Sam offered me a slot to post in up here, and I couldn’t refuse. For my standards, it’s pretty good, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the consistently comprehensive and insightful writing that is posted on this site regularly. Still, I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have it posted here, and would like to thank Sam Juliano for his kindness and generosity for allowing me to post it here. Hope you enjoy reading.

 Like the pigeons in his stoop on the rooftops overlooking the city, Terry Malloy lives his life without conscience, falling in line and keeping quiet whenever his number comes up. The moral choice he is faced with, whether to snitch on the corrupt mob boss who runs the dock he works at, makes up the core drama of On the Waterfront, and his frame of mind is explored as different characters pull him in different directions, each impacting his outlook in a different way. He is so clearly a product of his environment, the inner city working class, and Marlon Brando’s embodiment of the role placed a new emphasis developing characters through acting, which was groundbreaking in 1954. Director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg also infuse this social realist drama with a good dose of humanity, suggesting that if we can assert our own free will, we can transcend, both spiritually and physically, our current conditions. (more…)

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