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  1. I've seen "Unforgiven" only once, perhaps when it was released in 1992 (when, to my surprise, it won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Clint Eastwood), Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman), and Best Film Editing (Joel Cox). At the time, I liked, but did not love, the film, and was surprised when it won the Best Picture Award. Nevertheless, Terry Theise, a devout lover of film, raved about Unforgiven as much as he did "The Natural" (Terry is also a hardcore baseball fan), and I've done very well over the years following his recommendations in both film and literature Also, I remember David Foster Wallace (during a Charlie Rose interview, I believe) mentioning that he loved this movie also - It was time for me to give Unforgiven a second viewing. I am stunned at just how little of the movie I remembered. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** I'll be writing these notes, observations, and trivia as I watch the movie, so if you follow along, in sequence, there won't be any spoilers; just don't go beyond what I've written until you've seen that part of the film: * Scrolling, opening notes reveal that the wife of William Munny (Eastwood) - a known thief and murderer - died of smallpox in 1878; her parents assumed he would be the one to kill her, but they were wrong. Although it's impossible to tell at the time, the opening notes take place against a background of a man in the far distance, not far from a crooked shack in the middle of nowhere, doing some type of digging during a lovely sunset - this is Munny working on his wife's grave, and it's really a beautiful shot. * The film is set in the fictional town of Big Whiskey, Montana in 1880, although it was filmed in Alberta, Canada. * The very first scene is a violent, misogynistic knife attack in a brothel (in the upstairs of Greely's Beer Garden and Billiard Parlor (Don't go West, young woman) - okay, okay, the name's missing an "e" for it to have been Horace Greeley). There's still time for you to back out - this movie is not for the faint of heart, and does not lack for cringe-inducing violence. * "Little" Bill Dagget (Hackman), the sheriff, is called in during a downpour. The prostitute will live, but with disfiguring slash marks across her face. He asks for a bullwhip to be brought, despite the protestations of the madame ("Strawberry" Alice, played by Frances Fisher), who's more in favor of a hanging for such a severe crime against one of her own. * (In case you can't already tell, I'm going to be writing an extremely thorough synopsis and commentary of Unforgiven. There's still time for you to back out - this synopsis and commentary is not for the faint of heart, and will not lack for cringe-inducing OCD. Just whatever you do, please make sure not to read ahead, or you'll spoil the movie for yourself.) * "Skinny" Dubois (played by Anthony James), owner of the saloon (and hence the brothel), produces a "lawful contract' between him and Delilah Fitzgerald, the cut whore (played by Anna Levine), clearly showing he cares more about her as property than a human being (but I suppose that goes without saying). When Sheriff Dagget finds this out (knowing that the assilants are from the Bar-T Ranch), he fines one john ("Quick" Mike (played by David Mucci), the one who did the cutting) five ponies as retribution to Dubois; the other, "Davey-Boy" Bunting (played by Rob Campbell) two ponies, and spares them the whipping much to the frustration and anger of Alice. Ain't nobody gonna want a cut-up whore, but Dagget ordered this to be a simple matter of compensation for damaged property. * The next morning, the six prostitutes, led by Alice, figure out how much money they all have - several hundred dollars between the lot of them. Something is up, but we don't know what - for all we know at this point, they're trying to pitch in for a decent plastic surgeon (if there was such a thing back then). The scene then cuts to a hog farm in Kansas [the opening credits, with Munny in the background, seemed a bit too hilly for the Great Plains, so this must have been further east]. * The hog farm is Munny's, and he's tending in the slop to his sick swine (who have contracted a disease) in front of his children, when a young hotshot killer - "The Schofield Kid" (played by James Woolvett) rides up and introduces himself, taunting Munny, hoping to enlist him as a partner in a paid killing. What The Kid didn't realize is that Munny has reformed, and is living the life that he feels his late wife (who has now been gone three years) would want him to live - he hasn't taken a drink, or killed anyone in over ten years. The Kid then reveals that the prostitutes have pooled together a $1,000 reward for anyone who kills the two johns. Munny declines, and The Kid respectfully rides away, letting Munny know how to find him in case he changes his mind - as Munny watches The Kid ride into the distance, he ponders his poverty and his two children. * Cut to the prostitutes' shack in Big Whiskey, where they all live in a tiny commune. The two attackers ride by with their seven ponies, on their way to give them to Dubois, and the prostitutes silently glare at them - this scene is merely seconds long, but summarizes the state of things quite nicely. * Dubois infers that he's going to be taking a third horse from Davey Boy, and Quick Mike is suddenly pelted with what looks like horse excrement, right outside of Simmons & Borley Meat Market - appropriate, since the prostitutes have gathered en masse, and are pelting the assailants. Other stores nearby are a Blacksmith, Big Whiskey Hotel, and German's General Merchants. Davey Boy offers Delilah a pony in retribution (or, to assuage any residual guilt he has), and Alice scoffs at him while the girls begin pelting them again; yet, there's something about Delilah's tranquil expression for this small act that transcends anger. * Back on the hog farm, Munny pulls out a pistol, and fails spectacularly trying to target shoot; then he pulls out a rifle and nails it on the first shot. "Did pa used to kill folks?" his young daughter asked her brother. Munny ponders things in front of the tombstone of his wife, Claudia Feathers Munny (Mar 1, 1849 - Aug 6, 1878), but you can tell his mind is already made up. This time, it won't be whiskey that drives him to kill; it's poverty: Munny decides to leave his two young children for a couple of weeks, but he can't even mount a horse anymore. * At the brothel, Dubois is unsuccessfully trying to shake down his prostitutes, having heard they have some money. Empty-handed, he then goes out to Sheriff Dagget's property and tells him about the bounty, and Dagget seems determined to stand up for the assailants. * Munny rides up to a property where a very surprised Ned Logan (played by Morgan Freeman) introduces him to his wife, Native American Sally Two-Trees (earlier, Munny told his son to ask Two-Trees for help if he needed any during his absence). Munny tries to recruit Logan as a partner-in-bounty-hunting, and is ultimately successful due to the nature of the crime committed (which has been exaggerated due to multiple re-tellings of the tale, like what happens in the childhood phone game). Munny again has trouble mounting his steed, and hopefully this isn't going to be an ongoing attempt at comic relief because it's just not that funny. * Munny and Logan have dinner around a campfire, catching up on old times, and it's clear that Munny hates his past (and yet, he's going out to kill again - this film may be titled "Unforgiven" for a reason). * Cut to a steam train on the (fictional?) Northwest Railroad, with passengers railing (pun intended) about President Garfield's shooting (Garfield died eleven weeks later). Here, we meet "English Bob" (played by Richard Harris) a British gunfighter also out for the $1,000 bounty. When passengers on the train accuse Garfield's shooter of most likely being a "John Bull," English Bob chimes in and says that no, he was probably French (indeed, the assassin was Charles J. Guiteau, an American with a French name) and then proceeds to put on a remarkable display of pheasant shooting, taking $7 in wager money from another train passenger. * English Bob and his biographer (ironically named W.W. Beauchamp (played by the brilliant Saul Rubinek, whom you *must* see in Star Trek (TNG), Season 3, Episode 22: "The Most Toys") take a stagecoach (which inexplicably has "Expressly Muddy Hauling Chandler" written on the side of it) into Big Whiskey, where they pass a little sign that says, "No Fire Arms in Big Whiskey, Ordnance 14 - Deposit Pistols and Rifles. County Office." They pass the prostitutes' shack, and the prostitutes wave at them. In the next couple of minutes, you get a better view of Big Whiskey's layout: on the left, from near-to-far, is Greely's (the saloon and brothel), a bank, and a restaurant; on the right, from near-to-far, is German's General Merchant, what looks like "Bar" (or, maybe it's Barn - all the signs are in all-capital letters), and, ominously, in the far-right distance, Undertaker. From this perspective, English Bob's stagecoach approaches the camera (which is placed right on the main road). * As English Bob and Beauchamp step from the stagecoach, we see a Deputy, Andy Russell (played by Jeremy Ratchford), glaring at them. The deputy approaches them, sternly reminding them about the ordnance, and English Bob glibly tells him they're carrying no firearms. The scene then cuts to the Sheriff's office, the Deputy cocking a rifle, and saying, "Unarmed, my ass." There are several young, ornery men in the Sheriff's office, and they're not the type of people you'd want to cross. English Bob goes to the barber for a shave, and then asks directions to see Strawberry Alice. The barber told him to go "ask for a game of billiards," even though there are no tables there ("they burned the table in '78 for firewood"). * When English Bob and Beauchamp step out of the barber shop, they are immediately drawn down upon, facing three rifles and a pistol. After some awkward silence, Sheriff Dagget says, "Hello, Bob" - well, it looks like English Bob has something of a reputation, and that Little Bill knows what he's doing. "Boys, this here is English Bob," he says. The two know each other well, from the old days, and when English Bob introduces Beauchamp to Little Bill, he knows he's in trouble. Beauchamp reaches into his bag to pull out a book (to show them he's a writer), and all four weapons are immediately cocked for fear he's reaching for a gun - English Bob quietly says, "Uhh, I wouldn't do that if I were you, Mr. Beauchamp," and Beauchamp procedes to urinate himself. English Bob's "peacemaker" is confiscated, and Beauchamp's book is titled, "The Duke of Death." Little Bill then confiscates a second '32 from English Bob (which English Bob was trying to conceal), and then decks him. Then, when English Bob is down, Little Bill proceeds to (perhaps literally) kick the crap out of him, screaming out warnings to anyone who would come into Big Whiskey for non-existent "Whore's Gold" - he is seriously pissed off, wants no part of any southern bounty hunters riding into town, and is making damned sure that English Bob is going to spread the word when he gets back home. * At this point, the action has been centered around English Bob for so long that you almost forget about Munny and Logan, but the action cuts to them leisurely riding on horseback, approaching Big Whiskey, and after what just happened, you're left fearing for them: Little Bob is not someone you want to cross. Then, out of nowhere, they're being shot at (that's got to be one of the scariest things there is, being shot at, and not knowing from where). Well, it turns out that it's The Schofield Kid, and Munny and Logan yell over at him to stop shooting at them (he didn't know who they were). After some quarreling about how to divvy up the bounty, and a hilarious one-liner by Logan (regarding The Kid's rifle - other than Munny being unable to get on the horse, this is the first thing approaching any type of comic relief, and we're fifty minutes into the movie), the three team up, and keep on riding as a unit. * A relatively extended sequence (almost sixty seconds, complete with acoustic guitar over strings) follows of the three men peacefully riding together through the gentle, autumn landscape, perhaps lulling the viewer into a false sense of serenity. This is very lovely cinematography, but after what just happened to English Bob, I'm certainly not going to be letting my guard down anytime soon. * During the ride, Logan deduced that The Kid was nearsighted, which angered The Kid - who proceeded to rip off Logan's canteen and plug a couple of holes in it. Logan and Munny decided that as long as The Kid could see fifty yards, it was good enough. I'm suspicious of this scene, because it came out of nowhere, and is seemingly unrelated to anything else in the film. * Cut to Little Bill at his desk, perusing "The Duke of Death," holding a sarcastic conversation with English Bob (who's injured so badly he can't even talk) and Beauchamp, both locked away in a cell. Little Bill methodically debunks an entire scene in the book where he was present, and reveals English Bob to have cowardly killed a man who was unarmed (literally, unarmed). * Our three protagonists are trying to sleep by a campfire, on rocky ground, and The Kid is as smug as ever. * Little Bill has let Beauchamp out of the cell, and is spoon-feeding him some wisdom about shooting - the fact that a cool head is even more important than a fast draw. English Bob just has to lie there in the cell, listening to everything because he's so badly injured he can't move or speak. An interesting scene occurs when Little Bill offers a gun to Beauchamp, essentially daring him to shoot. He even allows him to offer the gun to English Bob (who wasn't sure whether or not the gun was loaded). English Bob declines, much to Little Bill's amusement - "You were right not to take it, Bob," Little Bill said. "I would have killed you," he added, emptying the live ammunition onto the ground. "We could use some rain, Mr. Beauchamp," Little Bill says. * Cut to Munny, Logan, and The Kid, riding in a downpour. Logan offers Munny a slug of whiskey, and Munny declines. * Beauchamp, sniveling man that he is, switches loyalty from Engligh Bob to Little Bill, and decides to stay in Big Whiskey as English Bob is ridden out of town (Beauchamp is now writing Little Bill's biography instead of "The Duke of Death"). There's a downpour in Big Whiskey, Little Bill's house is leaking like a sieve (he built it himself), and a messenger comes to inform him that three men have just ridden into town, and are at Greely's Tavern - two of them have guns. Earlier, they had ridden right by the warning sign in the downpour, and didn't even see it. * Munny had gotten terribly sick in the storm, and is sitting in Greely's delirious from fever - Little Bill comes in and thinks he's drunk, demanding his firearms. Logan and The Kid are upstairs at the brothel, leaving Munny all by himself in the saloon, surrounded by cocked guns, and having to face an angry Little Bill. It's raining, all right. Little Bill pummels Munny, and word gets up to the brothel that he's been beaten and kicked. Logan and The Kid rush to put their pants on, with Logan (in a moment of much-needed comic relief) tumbles out the window, and rolls down a slanted roof onto the ground outside. Little Bill goes up and slaps Alice for "letting" the two men out the back window. Ned and The Kid find Munny, who had slithered out of Greely's like a snake, doubled over on his horse, and help him out of town and into a makeshift camp. * The Kid, who worshiped Munny, is disillusioned that he could have suffered a beating the way he did (Munny was in an indefensible situation, and probably had a fever of 103). Fortunately, the next day, the rains have passed, and it's sunny outside. The prostitutes - who know full well the three are in town for the bounty - are secretly helping them with shelter and food. Munny remains both terribly ill, and also badly beaten - he is delirious, and not all that far away from death. * Munny has been in-and-out of a febrile state for three days, and when he wakes up, he thinks Delilah is an angel. She tells him Logan and The Kid went out scouting the Bar-T ranch when they saw his fever had broken. An angel-white snow covers the ground now, and Munny and Delilah begin to form a friendship - Delilah tells Munny that Logan and The Kid "have been taking advances" on the bounty by taking "free ones," and then offers Munny a free one. There's a great scene where Munny tells Alice that if he wanted a "free one," he'd want it with her because he thinks she's beautiful - the camera work here is perfect, and as absurd as the situation sounds, it's a wonderfully touching moment between two very scarred human beings. * Our three heroes ambush one of the assailants - Ned only manages to shoot Davey Boy's horse, who falls sideways, and pins Davey Boy, breaking his leg. When it comes time for the coup de gráce, Ned can't pull the trigger (just like Beauchamp couldn't pull the trigger on Little Bill earlier), and Munny reluctantly takes the gun. It becomes painfully clear that Munny, Logan, and The Schofield Kid are about as deadly as The Three Stooges. Munny struggles with shooting the rifle, but manages to connect with his final bullet, but its unclear whether or not its a lethal blow, as Davey Boy crawls behind a rock immediately after being shot. Munny and Logan look at each other - with The Kid yapping non-stop - and realize they don't know what the hell they're doing anymore, and that they shouldn't even be here. As they're riding away, Ned decides he just doesn't have the belly for this any longer, and heads back to Kansas, with Munny promising to drop off his share on the way home. * Word gets around to various people: Little Bill finds out, and sends someone to confine Quick Mike to the Double-T Ranch so he isn't out in the open; a rock comes sailing through the prostitutes' window (only to have Alice scream back, "He had it coming!"). * Ironically, and tragically, they caught Logan riding back to Kansas. Little Bill hauls him into the station, ties him to the jail bars, and whips him like a slave (also ironic, because no reference whatsoever has been made to Morgan Freeman's color during this entire film). Logan doesn't give in despite the tremendous beating, so Little Bill sends someone to fetch the prostitutes in order to compare stories, swearing he'll no longer "be gentle" if the stories don't match up. * At the Double-T, nature finally gets the best of Quick Mike, and he walks to the outhouse. The Kid opens the door, and bushwhacks him while Munny keeps him under cover (What a way to go!) Not unexpectedly, as the two flee, Munny has the same trouble getting on his horse. While Munny and The Kid wait for their payment, one of the prostitutes, Little Sue (played by Tara Frederick) rides up and informs them - to their horror - that Logan has been captured, tortured, killed, and his corpse humiliated. This does not sit well with Munny. As he listens to what happened to Logan, he begins gulping down whiskey - this is the first time during the entire movie that he broke down and drank anything. I would not want to be Little Bill right now. * The Kid swears off killing forever, but Munny is going after Little Bill. He gives The Kid the entire thousand dollars, and tells The Kid to deliver both Munny's and Logan's share to Munny's children, and the rest is for The Kid to keep - to buy a pair of spectacles for his poor vision. If Munny isn't back in a week, then his children are to give half of their share to Logan's widow, Sally Two-Trees. It's pouring down rain, and on the way back into Big Whiskey, the viewer sees, from the point of view of Munny, an empty bottle of whiskey being discarded on the ground. * As Munny enters Big Whiskey, he sees Logan's corpse in a coffin right outside of Greely's, with a sign that says, "This is what happens to assassins around here." As he sneaks into Greely's, Little Bill is buying people drinks, organizing the search party to depart in the morning to chase these "skunks" clear down to Texas. All the viewer sees is the long end of a rifle - the entire bar, full of people, turns around, and there is Munny. * "Who owns this establishment?" Munny asks, pointing his rifle at one of the citizens. At that point, Dubois speaks up, and Munny blows a hole in him. Little Bill looks him in the eye, and says, "Well, sir, you are a cowardly son of a bitch!" (Really? Didn't you just torture someone to death earlier today?) "You just shot an unarmed man!" Munny's - no, *Clint Eastwood's* reply: "Well, he should have armed himself, if he's going to decorate his saloon with my friend." * "All right, gentlemen," Little Bill says, walking towards Munny, "he's got one barrel left. When he fires it, take out your pistols, and shoot him down like the mangy scoundrel he is." * Munny pulls the trigger... * Click. * Little Bill, in his moment of triumph, says, "Misfire. Kill that son of a bitch!" Munny tosses his rifle at Little Bill, giving him just enough time to pull out his pistol. Little Bill gets off a shot, but misses, and Munny nails him. In a superhuman moment that only Clint Eastwood could pull off, he pretty much takes out the entire bar when they start firing at him. Impossible? Of course it's impossible, but it's Clint Eastwood. (Thought of the moment: For a town with such a strict anti-gun ordnance, there sure are a lot of guns.) * "Any man that don't want to get killed, better clear out the back." He lets them go, then slowly walks up to the bar, pours himself a shot of whiskey, and drinks it. He hears a man moaning - it's Beauchamp. "I've been shot!" he said, but he was merely covered with someone else's blood. A complete coward, he starts asking Munny questions about the five men he just killed so he can write about it. * Little Bill's eyes open - he isn't quite dead. Munny shoots some more whiskey, hears Little Bill cocking his pistol, then wheels around and shoots him again. "I don't deserve this," Little Bill says. "To die like this. I was building a house." Munny, looking down at him, replies, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." Little Bill's last words: "I'll see you in Hell, William Munny." Munny, slowly cocking his rifle, says, "Yeah," then points it right at him, looking straight down the barrel into his eyes, fires one last shot right into Little Bill's face, and slowly walks out of the bar, mercifully killing one more person who wasn't quite dead yet. * He walks out, threatening anyone who would dare shoot him, and comes upon Logan's corpse. Exiting the town on his horse, he shouts out orders to give Logan a proper burial, and not to cut any more whores - "or I'll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches." The prostitutes all come out into the pouring rain, silently watching Munny ride out of town. The camera pans back away in the dead of night, leaving only the torches burning by Logan's body visible in the distance. * "Unforgiven" ends just where it began: with the long shot of Munny walking out to his wife's grave in the sunset. He stands in the distance, as the closing narrative slowly rolls up the screen. In the distance, Munny turns, and disappears.
  2. I watched "The Departed" today, and while I loved the film, I'm a little surprised it won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Picture. It was an excellent, thrilling, double-twisting, head-scratching, mess-with-your-mind, crime thriller involving mirror-image good-and-evil juxtapositions that make you thankful you're watching it on video, since you're camped on the rewind button for half the movie. A great picture with mega, mega-stars? Yes! Best Picture of the year? Boy this must have been a very lean year, not that the Academy Awards are any arbiter of truth; still, I just don't see this as even being in the running, although the Academy has shocked me in the past with its mediocre winners. Don't get me wrong: It's an outstanding crime thriller which I really enjoyed; I'm just surprised so many critics thought so highly of it. How many films have you seen lately where Matt Damon is arguably the third-biggest draw, and where Alec Baldwin is perhaps the sixth-biggest? How much did they spend on salaries? I am very much in the minority in that I find Quentin Tarantino terribly overrated, and someone who relies far too much on excessive violence; this film clearly had a Tarantino-like influence over the far-superior Scorsese. Did he really need to make this such a bloodbath? Well, it added something, I suppose, and also like most audience members, I'm starting to become numb to gratuitous splatter films, so as long as movies aren't torture porn (and this didn't go that far) they've become socially accepted, and not even all that shocking which I think is a real shame.
  3. Presenting the Academy Award Winner for "Best Movie" in 1976: "Rocky." I think we can safely say this was a break-out film for Stallone. The first movie I watched from the Rocky series was Rocky III (with Mr. T as Clubber Lang). I was in college, and it was right up my alley - I *loved* it, in a way that I loved Terminator 2, or even The Twilight Zone believe it or not. It was a combination of superficial, gut, ra-ra survival (Terminator 2) and well-executed pulp escapism (The Twilight Zone). Then, the second movie I saw was Rocky IV (with Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago) which I thought was really pretty bad, even at my tender age. I don't think I saw any of the Rocky films beyond this one. It wasn't until years later that I saw Rocky and Rocky II, and despite having just rewatched Rocky (the original which won an Academy Award for Best Picture), I just can't bring myself to love it, and I'm wondering if it's because my teenage mind was tainted by the superficial glories of Rocky III. I would love to know other people's opinions on this film. Best Picture? Really? Maybe it's like Momofuku Noodle Bar - the right thing at the right time?
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