#23 The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath
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Ranking No. 21 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American films, this 1940 classic is a bit dated in its noble sentimentality, but it remains a luminous example of Hollywood classicism from the peerless director of mythic Americana, John Ford. Adapted by Nunnally Johnson from John Steinbeck's classic novel, the film tells a simple story about Oklahoma farmers leaving the depression-era dustbowl for the promised land of California, but it's the story's emotional resonance and theme of human perseverance that makes the movie so richly and timelessly rewarding. It's all about the humble Joad family's cross-country trek to escape the economic devastation of their ruined farmland, beginning when Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) returns from a four-year prison term to discover that his family home is empty. He's reunited with his family just as they're setting out for the westbound journey, and thus begins an odyssey of saddening losses and strengthening hopes. As Ma Joad, Oscar-winner Jane Darwell is the embodiment of one of America's greatest social tragedies and the "Okie" spirit of pressing forward against all odds (as she says, "because we're the people"). A documentary-styled production for which Ford and cinematographer Gregg Toland demanded painstaking authenticity, The Grapes of Wrath is much more than a classy, old-fashioned history lesson. With dialogue and scenes that rank among the most moving and memorable ever filmed, it's a classic among classics--simply put, one of the finest films ever made. --Jeff Shannon
The Grapes of Wrath
Product Description
This remarkable film version of Steinbeck?s novel was nominated for seven Academy Awards®, including for Best Picture, Actor (Henry Fonda), Film Editing, Sound and Writing. John Ford won the Best Director Oscar® and actress Jane Darwell won Best Actress for her portrayal of Ma Joad, the matriarch of the struggling migrant farmer family. Following a prison term he served for manslaughter, Tom Joad returns to find his family homestead overwhelmed by weather and the greed of the banking industry. With little work potential on the horizon of the Oklahoma dust bowls, the entire family packs up and heads for the promised land ? California. But the arduous trip and harsh living conditions they encounter offer little hope, and family unity proves as daunting a challenge as any other they face.

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Thor Movie Review - May 5, 2011

I caught Thor, the Movie, tonight at the ICON Theater on Roosevelt Rd. in downtown Chicago. I was caught by surprise that it was 3D.

The technical stuff:
The 3D, in general, was slightly blurry. My seats were slighty off from the center, but big budgets movies need to get this right. Thor did not.

The CGI and related animation was often amazing, occasionally disappointing. The bridge (Thor readers know what I mean) connecting Asgard and Earth, was like a bad disco floor against a backdrop that was busy with flashing lights. That's not only a technical problem, but also, poor design. While a rainbow bridge might have felt a little too "Smurfy," work is still needed. Maybe the issue will be resolved by the time the Avengers movie is released.
Thor Lightning Hammer
The gist is Thor is about to be crowned king in a lavish ceremony. His rock star attitude is tolerate because he is basically a decent guy. It is disrupted by the Frost Giants. Loki convinces Thor to wage war against the wishes of Odin, and they, with a few others, go to kick some icycle tail.

It gets seriously out of hand, and Odin banishes Thor to Earth. His hammer, the Mjolnir, is sent too, but only a man of Authurian purity can pick it up. Thor's no longer fit to do it, nor can any of the humans who try. The sword, so to speak, stays in the stone.

Meanwhile, Loki is provocating war in Asgard with the Frost Giants, claiming Odin is dead (he's not), and ascending to the throne.

What happens next is why the movies matters.

Overall, it works. In short, like Iron Man, Thor is a story of a powerful person let their arrogance cause havoc. He realizes it, is humbled, and uses his powers for good. Simple as that, and, on this level, it works.

Weaknesses are in how they push the plot. For example: The romantic subplot is incomplete. Thor falls for Jane too deeply, too quickly. She's too easily accepting that he's a god.

Loki's intentions go from sneaky, to evil, to confusing. I left the theater with no idea what he was trying to accomplish.

It, more or less, follows the key Marvel comic book line. I won't go through the differences as the most not only needs to stand on its own, but comic are so often retconned (Retroactive continuity) to work in another era or media, it isn't worth deliberating.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor - Completely Thor. Superhero films has suffered from brilliant and horrible casting (Brandon Routh as an effeminate, unmasculine Clark Kent/Superman was the worst). Not here. Hemsworth fit the suit, the attitude. He's sexy without being raunchy, arrogrant yet likeable, humble but not a wimp.

Anthony Hopkins as Odin - Wow. Think of this as compared to Marlon Brando as Superman's dad, Jor-El. Who would have thought they would do a comic book movie? Hopkins is completely believable as Odin. A few lines should have been rewritten (watch near the end for a "should haven't been deleted Hallmark Afterschool Special" scene), but he masters even the thinnest lines.

Natalie Portman as Jane Foster - She works as the generic attractive brunette. You might not mind that she's there, but a half dozen other actresses could have stepped in.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki - He fits it. Not so evil, but by no means good. His role is something that of the serpant in Eden. He is a tempter, liar and thief.

Stellan SkarsgÄrd as Dr. Erik Selvig - Like Portman, he did a fine, yet unremarkable job as Foster's mentor.

To compare it to other superhero movies: Iron Man and the recent Batman movies are more sophisticated, but also darker and for older audiences. It misses the banter and emo-romance of Spiderman, and retro-cheesy fun of Superman. That's not a bad thing.

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Watch the first trailer for Thor, in theaters May 6, 2011.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the epic adventure "Thor" spans the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the realm of Asgard. At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Thor is cast down to Earth and forced to live among humans as punishment. Once here, Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth.

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#22 Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot
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Maybe "nobody's perfect," as one character in this masterpiece suggests. But some movies are perfect, and Some Like It Hot is one of them. In Chicago, during the Prohibition era, two skirt-chasing musicians, Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon), inadvertently witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. In order to escape the wrath of gangland chief Spats Colombo (George Raft), the boys, in drag, join an all-woman band headed for Florida. They vie for the attention of the lead singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), a much-disappointed songbird who warbles "I'm Through with Love" but remains vulnerable to yet another unreliable saxophone player. (When Curtis courts her without his dress, he adopts the voice of Cary Grant--a spot-on impersonation.) The script by director Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond is beautifully measured; everything works, like a flawless clock. Aspiring screenwriters would be well advised to throw away the how-to books and simply study this film. The bulk of the slapstick is handled by an unhinged Lemmon and the razor-sharp Joe E. Brown, who plays a horny retiree smitten by Jerry's feminine charms. For all the gags, the film is also wonderfully romantic, as Wilder indulges in just the right amounts of moonlight and the lilting melody of "Park Avenue Fantasy." Some Like It Hot is so delightfully fizzy, it's hard to believe the shooting of the film was a headache, with an unhappy Monroe on her worst behavior. The results, however, are sublime. --Robert Horton
Some Like It Hot
Product Description
When Chicago musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) accidentally witness a gangland shooting, they quickly board a southbound train to Florida, disguised as Josephine and Daphne, the two newest and homeliest members of an all-girl jazz band. Their cover is perfect...until a lovelorn singer (Marilyn Monroe) falls for Josephine, an ancient playboy (Joe E. Brown) falls for Daphne, and a mob boss (George Raft) refuses to fall for their hoax! Nominated* for 6 Academy Awards(r), Some Like It Hot is the quintessential madcap farce and one of the greatest of all film comedies (The Motion Picture Guide). *1959: Director, Actor (Lemmon), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography (B&W), Art Direction (B&W), Costume Design (B&W, winner)

#21 Chinatown

Chinatown (Special Collector's Edition)

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Chinatown (Special Collector's Edition)Roman Polanski's brooding film noir exposes the darkest side of the land of sunshine, the Los Angeles of the 1930s, where power is the only currency--and the only real thing worth buying. Jack Nicholson is J.J. Gittes, a private eye in the Chandler mold, who during a routine straying-spouse investigation finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into a jigsaw puzzle of clues and corruption. The glamorous Evelyn Mulwray (a dazzling Faye Dunaway) and her titanic father, Noah Cross (John Huston), are at the black-hole center of this tale of treachery, incest, and political bribery. The crackling, hard-bitten script by Robert Towne won a well-deserved Oscar, and the muted color cinematography makes the goings-on seem both bleak and impossibly vibrant. Polanski himself has a brief, memorable cameo as the thug who tangles with Nicholson's nose. One of the greatest, most completely satisfying crime films of all time. --Anne Hurley