On-Flight Entertainment: The Big Year, 2011

The Big Year, David Frankel (2011) [100 minutes]

Hey there, guys! I have been traveling so much this summer. Whether it’s bus, car, plane, zeppelin, or whatever I have had a crazy but completely awesome time! That’s why it has been so quiet on here the last few weeks, but now that will be rectified.

I have seen a incredible amount of horrible movies on planes (most of them involving Jennifer Anniston or some wannabe, I’m not sure which is worse). So, when I put on my headphones on the airplane I was preparing for the worst. I had never heard of this movie they were showing, The Big Year, and I went into it rather begrudgingly. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Big Year is a movie about an annual birding competition, in which birders, or bird watchers, have one year to travel across the United States and see as many species of birds as possible. The film takes place over a year. These men, pictured above, compete for the title of best birder. The plot, I’ll admit, sounds a little silly. I knew nothing about birding. I mean, I had no idea a competition like that even existed! But I found it all really interesting. I acquired some interesting knowledge that I’ll probably never use again, but you never know. 😛

The birding competition makes the movie more interesting and unique, but this is really a story about three men. Owen Wilson plays the reigning champion of birding. He is an antagonist of sorts, but the film really succeeds in humanizing him. He is the best of the best, but we see the price he pays to keep that up. Steve Martin is a very successful business man who only wants to retire and enjoy a big year before it’s too late. He struggles with leaving behind his job and his family, fearing he is too old for this dream. Jack Black plays our hero. A man who is really down on his luck, he has failed at most everything in life. Birding is what he’s great at and what he really wants to do. He struggles immensely throughout the film, but never gives up. Honestly, I found the portrayals of these characters refreshing. They are not unfamiliar tropes, but the way they are approached is without any sort of prejudice. The film does not judge any of its characters. Their faults and strengths are laid out for the viewer to see, without glorifying or degrading anyone in the process.

By the stars in the film you would think that this movie is sidesplittingly hilarious, but that isn’t case. It is funny, don’t get me wrong, but that isn’t the point. It’s really a feel-good, inspirational and simply adorable film. It probably won’t change your life (I mean who knows maybe you’ll want to take up birding), but it is a very way enjoyable to spend 100 minutes.

Hey! I Know That Guy: There are many little cameos throughout the movie. I always like seeing people randomly pop up out of their usual context.

Low Scores:  This movie has surprisingly low scores from critics. I was not expecting 10/10, but it is really judged way too harshly. I think most of the problem lies with people going in a expecting a comedy à la The Hangover. It is most certainly not that.

How to Watch: However you like! It’s a great film to just play one night that you are needing a cute, feel-good movie.

Who to Watch With: Anyone really can watch this. If you know someone who is a nature enthusiast or loves birds, then obviously it’s is perfect for them.

Final Verdict: I am not going to list this amongst my top films of all time, but I really found it such a lovely experience. It just felt so sincere and unpretentious. The actors do a wonderful job and the scenery is lovely. The Big Year is completely different than the movies I usually write about, its not old, foreign or too odd or out there. I wanted to review it because I really think you guys will like it. I mean I really enjoyed it, so please give it a shot!


Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D 

And the Oscar Goes to… The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai, David Lean (1957) [161 minutes]

{This is the first post in a new series I’m doing on the Oscars. This will cover all the Oscar winners since the inception of this prestigious award. Not in chronological order, however, it is simply random (as this post shows). Of course, not all of these movies are worthy winners or even good films, but that’s what makes it fun 😛 }

After I published the post about my favorite year in movies [here it is, if you haven’t seen it], many expressed complete incredulity at how I could write a post about my favorite films of 1957 without including The Bridge on the River Kwai. The answer is really very simple: I had never seen the movie before.  Many of the comments told me that I must rectify this. Even if it’s not going on my top list, I should watch it. This along with my dad constantly lamenting that he raised daughter who has never seen this film, led me to watch it. Honestly, it was well worth it. Writing this review was quite a hurdle for me, though. Since I haven’t watched many war movies, I don’t have much to compare it to. I have to judge The Bridge on the River Kwai on its merits as a cinematic experience. I don’t know much about what actually happened on the river Kwai (all I know is that its nothing like the movie), but I do know a little something about great movies.

This is a World War II movie, probably one of the most famous ever filmed, but we are never in the heat of the battle. It’s a film about British soldiers who are prisoners of war in Japanese occupied Burma. They are instructed to build a bridge for their captors. Their leader, played masterfully by Sir Alec Guinness,is extremely honorable and proud. He’ll break before he bends. He is horrified that the Japanese are not abiding by the Geneva Convention. Commanding officers are forced into physical labor, which is a major faux-pas (the Convention mentions that specifically as a bad thing).

The highlight of this film has to be the characters. It is a psychological study of the effects of war on different personalities. These men are thrown into horrible situations and are faced with difficult decisions. I find it completely fascinating, and I have to admit I was not expecting that at all. The whole film is also entrenched in irony (especially the fantastic ending).The men lose sight of the bigger picture. In order to prove the superiority of the British soldier, they end up helping the Japanese.

You leave the film with a wonderful mix of satisfaction and disappointment, which is an extremely difficult balance to achieve. Traditionally it is a happy ending, but the way that the story is crafted it comes across as bitter-sweet.

All the trailers I found were awful. This famous scene is a better introduction to the film than anything else:

Some Good Old-Fashioned Scene Analysis: The scene above is one of the most famous in cinematic history. It is our introduction to the British soldiers and damn do they make an impact! They march into camp, as prisoners, with their heads held high, whistling and marching in perfect time. Their shoes are broken and they are filthy, but their spirits are not broken. The men in the camp look at them in utter confusion. The Japanese officers look more befuddled than anyone. Here comes a group of captives, but they seem prouder than the men imprisoning them.

Why Hadn’t You Watched It Before?: I am not too big on war movies, never have been. I don’t hate them, but sometimes they bore me. They tend to be really long, which means that I really have to purposefully sit down one afternoon/evening and watch it… and that kind of foresight and planning isn’t really my thing. I’m more likely to do it for the genres I love, but for war, not so much.

How to Watch: This movie needs that big screen experience, but more than that it needs great sound. The sound for this movie, whether diagetic or not, is probably among the best I’ve seen. That clip above is a wonderful example. You hear the men’s boots, their clear whistles and then the orchestra seamlessly blends in. It gives me goosebumps.

Who to Watch With: Anyone can watch this. There is nothing crude or graphic. It’s great for people who aren’t into war movies, too (like me!).

Final Verdict: There is a reason this is so famous. The characterization is amazing, as is that super catchy whistling tune. It’s worth it.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D


Laura, Otto Preminger (1944) [88 minutes]

The first time I watched Preminger’s Laura, I became a film fanatic.Watching this movie with my dad as a young girl is one of my favorite memories. Immediately after it was over, we re-watched the entire thing again, this time with the commentary. It turned this already interesting film into a completely fascinating experience. I loved learning all the detail that went into making this movie. The more I heard the more I wanted to know. After this, I practically devoured every movie I could find, especially film noirs, which quickly became my favorite genre.

The level of detail and the amount of subtlety in Laura is lost on a first time viewer. This is the type of film that you  must watch over and over and over again… But don’t be discouraged! It’s still very good the first time you watch it (what’s the point if it isn’t?).

The film starts off with Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), investigating the murder of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney). She was shot in the face with a double-barreled shotgun in the dead of night. He questions and investigates the myriad of characters that surrounded Laura in life. Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) is a wealthy writer who acts as her mentor. Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) is Laura’s bumbling, ladies man of a fiancée, who has been living off her aunt’s, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), fortune for quite some time. All these people divert and draw suspicion to themselves throughout the film. You never know who to trust. The film has some very shocking twists, yet the story is still believable. I abhor when I watch a movie and there is a twist out of nowhere that is “surprising”, but it’s pathetically nonsensical rather than being well-written (and Laura is certainly the latter).

Preminger shot this film in the “invisible camera” style, popular in Classic Hollywood era. In this style, audience doesn’t/shouldn’t  notice when or how the camera moves or any evidence of editing. The purpose is to fully focus the viewer on the story and have them ignore the mechanics behind it all, which tend to “destroy” the illusion. Achieving this style is not as simple as it sounds. The camera has to always be where it needs to be, largely keeping its distance from the characters allowing the audience to act like a detective who analyzes and observes the action. In addition, the camera zooms into closeup so rarely that when it does it adds weight to the moment.

This film is atmospheric. Like a dream, it is not a gritty detective story: fast and impatient. The film takes its time, showing us all the characters, their different stories and flaws. The amount of detail in the set designs is outstanding. Laura and all the suspects are very wealthy. Their homes contain a great amount of antiques, art and other expensive looking objects. Some of these things play a huge role in the narrative, almost becoming characters themselves.

The biggest factor in creating the dream-like mis-en-scene has to be the portrait of Laura [pictured above]. Located in her apartment, a large amount of the action happens around it. When I heard the commentary track, I found out some interesting things about the painting. Apparently, while they were filming the movie, they treated this object like it was another person in the frame. The way that it was lit, composed and positioned in relation to other actors was as if it where Gene Tierney herself. As the film progresses we see the detective become enamored with the murder victim. He becomes obsessed with the portrait; he gazes at the painting and it seems to look right back at him. There is one moment in the film, during one of the major twists, were the painting is very haunting and almost surreal in relation to its surroundings (sorry to be so vague! I just don’t want to spoil it, if you want more specifics ask in the comments bellow. Believe me you will love it!).

On the surface, this film appears simple. It is very short and it can seem like not a lot is happening (it takes a while to “get started”). Most of the scenes center around dialogue rather than action. The twists, however, are shocking and fun! I was just re-watching it with my brother before writing this review. He was having a great time trying to guess who the murderer was. I think you guys will like this film. It is not a big time commitment and you get much more than you would expect out of it.

[I was going to put a trailer here but all the ones I saw were either too long or full of spoilers!]

Musical Moment: Don’t worry, no one breaks out in song and dance (it would be a little out of place!). I just wanted to mention the film’s score, written by David Raskin. It’s the song playing throughout this trailer. It is so perfect for the film! Its one of those scores that elevates an already great movie to another level.

Special Features: The commentary tracks are very good. They are informative and entertaining!

Adaptations: I know that this is originally a book. I have it on my pile of books I have yet to read, which has been largely untouched throughout the school year. Have any of you who read the books think that this is a good adaptation? I’m curious to know.

How to watch: This one you can watch in English (I bet you thought I would never say that). I watched the DVD and the quality was pretty good, but not great. I looked on Amazon and I don’t see any Blu-ray options available, but we better get one very soon. Also, watch this on a stormy night, film noir always seems even better when its miserable out.

Who to watch with: There is a lot of dialogue in Laura. Make sure that you watch it attentively. Also, its pretty good for bookish kids, like I was. With all the dialogue and atmosphere it feels like a really great novel at times.

Final Verdict: Maybe I’m a little bias, I mean I really love this movie. I’ve loved it for so long and I adore re-watching it. It is smart, stylish, suspenseful, mysterious, dreamy and overall wonderful. If it can inspire this much passion in me, you really must give it a try.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! 🙂