Top 100 Movie Review: #2 – Casablanca (1942)

Play it Again, Sam.

Okay – I know that quote never happened, but what did happen is Hollywood’s template that it still uses today: love story, playful characters, happy ending, good always prevails.

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Sam (Dooley Wilson) , Rick (Humphrey Bogart)  and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman).

American Film Institutes Ranking: #3/100
Awards: Nominated for eight winning three: Picture, Director and Writing/Screenplay.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

This movie.

From the first moments in Rick’s cafe, I realized that I was going to really enjoy this one. What Hollywood does so well is pulling the wool over our eyes. The movie’s plot and characters feigned, pushing against the boundaries of reality, but time and time again we find the magic produced so enticing we suspend our thinking minds and tap into our imaginations.

This doozy of a WWII flick combines anything you can consider to be Hollywood and does it at a high level. The dialogue, the characters, the setting, and the plot all swept me up, transporting me to a time that no longer exists (and truthfully never did) for one of the best films of all time.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #96 – The Searchers (1956)

Beautiful Vistas Paired with Man-Made Caricatures

This movie combines the awe-inspiring nature of the west with mostly inorganic and stale characters leaving me wondering: can setting alone carry a movie?

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A scene that epitomes the film: wonderful back drop with a typical Cowboys vs. Indian story.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #96/100
Awards: None
My Ratingsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

I sometimes take a peak at other people’s thoughts on a movie before settling down on my own: was there an angle I missed or a piece of lore that impacts how I view the film? Roger Ebert is consistently someone I go to first because of his acerbic wit and clear writing. His review for “The Searchers” is a study in character analysis as he slices and dices the depth of the two main leads, reading far into the director’s intentions and purpose.

I simply disagree with what he comes up with. 

Ebert dives deep into the shallow souls of these scantily-detailed characters, projecting life into them that I just cannot see. Where he finds impactful statements and testaments to the director’s hidden or subliminal messages, I see stage props — exception being the main character. This leaves me feeling that the environment was more dynamic than the story and characters: the West is daunting with staggering depth and isolation, while the characters are more true to the stagnant mountains that surround them.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #98 – Unforgiven (1992)

A Ho-Hum Western

The moment you’ve been waiting for finally comes 4/5ths through the movie, but it all seems too late and anti-climatic. 

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Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Jaimz Woolvett. 

American Film Institutes Ranking: #98/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for several: best picture, actor, screenplay, director, supporting actor. Won for supporting actor (Gene Hackman), Director (Clint Eastwood) and Picture.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-star

I’m okay with Westerns. My favorite book of all time happens to be a Western (Lonesome Dove). Older generations who display the red,white and blue at every door and buy cars made only in Detroit view Westerns as a quintessential American representation. The West represents the idyllic egalitarian society with no centralized government and each small community creating their own standards for law and acceptable behavior — no need for big government here!

It all works out for you as long as you are the swashbuckling cowboy and not one of the the characters regelated to the edges such as women, children, seniors, and those not willing to be violent. Unforgiven continues with this deconstruction of the Western narrative, focusing on a protagonist that isn’t glistening with moral righteousness while showing the real toll of vigilante justice. So while Unforgiven is certainly a Western, it tries to butt up against the glorification of the genre.

My problem is that in the process of flipping the script, you lose connection with the characters leaving a resolution that is ultimately unsatisfying.

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Top 100 Album Review: #30 – Blue, Joni Mitchell (1971)

An Extremely Personal Expose About Relationships

Completely exposed, Joni Mitchell touches a nerve featuring all textures of a relationship. Her infatuation, longing, loneliness, and heartbreak is cracked open for all of us to see.

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #30/100
My Rating:smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

The first two CDs I ever owned were Lou Bega’s Mumbo Number 5 and Joni Mitchell’s Blue. What do you want — I was a weird kid. Riding around on bus #22, I jammed out to the folk goodness of Joni Mitchell as we caravanned down cow-covered patches in western Hanover in Virginia.

I shouldn’t say I owned it; I overheard it being played by my sister and my mother, and after one of them left it in the CD drive, I got in the habit of listening to it while playing some of my favorite browser-based games (Archmage or Sissyfight anyone?). As a 13 year old, I did not exactly catch what all the lyrics were about. I much more appreciated the solid tunes and the earthy tones of the singer-song writer genre that was pretty absent from my 90s music diet.

Listening to this as a thirty year old is quite a different experience — past people and places bubbling to the surface with each track.

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Top 100 Album Review: #100 – In the Wee Small Hours – Frank Sinatra (1955)

Like the Concept, Not the Execution

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Rating: smooth-starsmooth-star

I’ve always been a fan of Frank Sinatra. One of the first albums I ever owned was “Classic Sinatra – His Great Performances from 1953 to 1960.” Those 20 songs encapsulate so much of what is great about Sinatra: timeless voice, great instrumental backing, classic songs.

During college, I worked at a local YMCA that played awful radio music and during the holidays the station changed to Christmas music only. We literally listened to nonstop, Christmas music for 30 days — you try and deadlift to “Do You Hear What I Hear.” (Gentle reminder that this was before mp3 players).

I took over as part-time DJ during my shift to avoid from losing it, and I would occasionally sneak in upbeat Sinatra songs to cater to the “Open to All” mission statement but quickly learned how sensitive people were to music selection.

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