Tuesday, September 6, 2011


They don't make em like they used to.  I've been getting into older stuff lately.  I've been watching black and white films and episodes of the The Twilight Zone that I hadn't seen yet.  I watched Sunset Blvd and The Apartment recently (aka my Billy Wilder kick) and they really made me miss how much more dialoguecentric films used to be.  Of course I think it's awesome that film-making technology has advanced so much, but in a lot of ways, that has also made films a lot more visual, which is fine but I do miss smart, sharp, banter.  On that note, one youtube movie reviewer I've enjoyed watching is The Blind Film Critic, who really provides a pretty fresh perspective on movies.  The explosions in the old movies really had to come from the words and the characters and not the special effects.  I was pleasantly surprised that I could take bathroom breaks while watching the movie and not miss out on too much when I came back and that if I wasn't looking at the screen the whole time, I could still get a general sense of what was going on.

Sunset Blvd

Sunset Blvd is a film noir about young Hollywood screenwriter, Joseph Gills (William Holden) and his relationship with aging, former silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).  Gills is struggling financially when he first encounters Desmond and ends up becoming employed by Desmond. You've probably heard one of the many famous quotes from this movie or seen clips of this film at some point.  It's dark and Desmond is one of the most ambiguous characters on film ever.  I can't remember deciding whether or not I wanted to hate, pity, or like a character so much since watching Gollum in Lord of the Rings.  There are also so many little things in the movie, little details (the funeral, the story of that movie Desmond plans to star in, the unlocked doors) that make the whole movie intensely creepy- and that what we get to see in the movie is only just the surface.  All in all, it's a classic and definitely worth seeing if you're a fan of movies.  
The Apartment 

The Apartment is about CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a businessman who tries to get ahead in his company by letting executives at his company use his apartment for their own private affairs.  It's humorous in the first half or so but then suddenly turns quite serious when we learn more about the elevator girl that Baxter likes, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).  
A little bit of trivia: The Apartment (1960) was the last black and white film until the mostly black and white Schindler's List (1994) to win the best picture Oscar.

It's been a while since I've watched a movie where I found myself wondering and genuinely caring if everything was going to be all right for everyone in the end.  You're really not sure how things are going to turn out in the last act.  While the movie got more serious in the second half, I did appreciate the levity they  incorporated.  I'm still a bit torn about the ending and I wonder where the director, Billy Wilder, would have chosen to end the film if there really weren't any rules.  Also features one of my favorite creative uses of a tennis racket.  (see video above)

Twilight Zone

What's there not to like?  It has one of the creepiest opening sequences ever, great acting, fantastic writing, and stories that are relevant regardless of the time.  It's like reading really great short stories.
I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites.
  • The After Hours- This was the first twilight zone episode I'd ever seen.  I saw it during one of the Sci-fi channel's yearly marathons and even though I was reluctant to watch something in black and white, the story really drew me.  The After Hours is about a woman who is looking for a special thimble in a department store.  She ends up on a strange, non-existent floor in the store.  The suspense and atmosphere in this one is really fantastic.  
  • Lonely - This one breaks my heart, and it really makes you think about how people define what constitutes life.  Lonely is about a prisoner who is imprisoned on an asteroid.  His only company are the guards who deliver supplies to him four times a year.  After a disappointingly short visit, one of the guards gives him a female robot to keep him company.  The space suits are goofy but don't let it distract you from the rest of the story.       
  • The Shelter- I'm surprised that fewer people cite this one on the notable twilight zone episodes.  It doesn't have any sci-fi elements, it's about a suburban neighborhoods that has just received a potential nuclear bomb threat and only one family on the street has a proper nuclear shelter.  The episode really hits at the core theme of many twilight zone episodes-fear bringing out the worst in people.  Definitely more believable and better executed than the more famous, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.  
  • Other notable episodes:
    • The Eye of the Beholder and Number 12 Looks Just Like YouThe Eye of the Beholder is the quintessential Twilight Zone episode and if you haven't seen it, it's a really great place to start.  It does what Twilight Zone does best: twists your perception of things.  Both are about beauty and the importance that our society places on it.  Number 12 is thematically quite similar to Eye of the Beholder about a girl who refuses to go through an operation that will make her "pretty" and look like everyone else around her.  It really hits hard when she realizes that no one understands her desire to keep her looks so that she can preserve her identity.       
    • A Stop at Willoughby and Walking Distance: Some of the two more "realistic" twilight zone episodes.  Both are well told and highly relatable.  I'm sure that everyone at some point  has just wanted to escape into their fantasy land as the overworked, stressed businessman in A Stop at Willoughby wishes to do or wanted to go back to the past, where another businessman actually gets to do in Walking Distance.         
    • Perchance to Dream and Twenty Three: Two really great, haunting episodes about dreams.  Both are taut and suspenseful.  
    • One for the Angels: I initially thought this one was a bit on the cheesy side, but the characters really grow on you.  It also gives you a nice, warm and fuzzy feeling at the end which is rather rare for the series.   Death comes to tell a salesman that he is going to die at midnight but the salesman opposes- he still has a lot he wants to do!  Namely he wants to make a fantastic sales pitch.  Death makes him a proposition: he will not collect the man's soul until he's completed the pitch.    
    • The Silence: I keep thinking about this one, because it gets under my skin and reminds me of "The Gift of the Magi", that frustrating short story you probably read at some point in grade school , about the couple that buy each other presents by sacrificing something extremely precious to each other to get those presents.  The Silence, I think, is the polar opposite of that.  In The Silence, an older member of a country club gets annoyed at an extremely talkative young member of the club and makes a bet with him: if he can go for a whole year without talking, he will receive a large sum of money.      

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