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9 Best Marlon Brando Films

Marlon Brando is considered by some to be the best American actor, though I do not agree.  He is in the Top Ten, possibly Top Five.  Acting style in film can be classified as either before Brando or after.  He brought Method to the big screen and forever changed how we, the audience, expected roles to be performed. His main negative is his relatively small body of work when compared to other actors. That being said, his performances are typically memorable and unique.

Normally when creating a list like this I try and limit myself to five choices. In Brando’s case I saved the Top Five for roles in which he was the lead actor, and the bottom four (I could not come up with a fifth) for supporting characters.

 

#9 The Freshman

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Carmine Sabatini is basically Don Corleone as a nice guy with a comedic spin. He has good chemistry with Matthew Broderick, and he parodies himself well.

#8 Superman The Movie

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Click on image for “Goodbye, my son” scene.

Though not on screen long, his Jor-El haunts the remainder of the film. With the distinctive Kryptonian look created by the art and costume designers and his calm demeanor as Krypton crumble, Brando’s Jor-El conveys wisdom, strength, and foresight. And later in the movie when he appears as a holographic tutor for Clark Kent in the Fortress of Solitude, and Superman chooses to go against his command to not interfere with human history you understand the importance of that decision. This is where Clark the boy unyokes himself from the ghost of his father to become a man. The chose is made more poignant because the role of Jor-El was imbued with much power because of Brando’s performance.

#7 Missouri Breaks

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A truly bizarre yet captivating performance from Brando in an admittedly off-beat Western. He and Jack Nicholson work well together, with Nicholson saying Brando acted everyone off screen. This film marks Brando’s transition from leading man to character actor.

 

#6 Apocalypse Now

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Click on image to view “Meeting Kurtz” scene

Unlike Jor-El where Brando creates a performance that informs the remainder of the movie, his Col. Kurtz has to live up to the expectation of the character.  He does.  Though notoriously difficult to work with during the shoot, Brando creates a character for the ages.  After watching Apocalypse Now the first time, you now have the personification of Kurtz in your mind in all other viewings.  That image only enhances the experience of the film.

 

#5 The Godfather

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Click on image to view Bonassara scene

Though Brando won the Academy Award for Leading Man as Vito Corleone, The Godfather is really the story of his son, Michael.  Paramount Studios pushed Brando to the Academy because he was the known actor.  That being said, the Oscar is richly deserved.  His portrayal of a mafia don would be the standard bearing for all others to follow.  When someone imagines the glamorous side of the mob, it is to Don Vito Corleone they dream of being.  Brando also gave the character a humanity typically not seen for such a role.  You felt his loss when he verbalized how he wished Michael did not follow him into the family business; how he imagined a Senator Corleone.

 

#4 Morituri

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An overlooked performance in an overlooked film. Brando plays a apolitical sympathetic German blackmailed by British Secret Service to assume the identity of an SS Officer, and travel with a German freighter with necessary cargo. The performance like the film is understated and intelligent. (As a side note, the film is incredibly shot in high contrast black & white film.)

 

#3 Last Tango In Paris

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Click on image to view ballroom drunk scene

Brando at his most vulnerable as an American Expat in Paris.  A broken man looking to feel alive again, and finding that feeling in a young woman.  The little private world they create for themselves cannot last, but he does fight for it in the end.  He himself claimed he never felt more raw, exposed, vulnerable, then when he was filming this movie.

#2 On The Waterfront

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Click on image to view Terry & Edie scene

It was a tough call between the #1 and #2 slot.  Brando’s Terry Malloy is the vulnerable brute the bad guys take advantage of in order to get their way.  From his classic “I could have been a contender” speech, to his fiddling with Edie’s dropped glove in the park on the swings, Brando creates an empathic character you care about.

 

#1 A Streetcar Named Desire

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Click on image to view “Napoleonic Code” scene.

Because this is the role that changed what we expect from actors and their performances.  Mumbled lines, animal passion, brute strength, no one had seen anything like Brando’s performance as Stanley Kowalski.  Clear diction?  Not for this type of man.  Sexual innuendo?  No, only raw passion and animal lust.  Brando’s Stanley was no fictionalized version of the working man but the real deal.

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“The Mosquito Coast” (1986) – 5-Obstructions Blogathon

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Click on Image to go to Blogathon Overview

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Click on Image to Read MyFilmView’s Blogathon Post

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Director: Peter Weir

Writers: Paul Theroux & Paul Schrader

Stars: Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, and River Phoenix

Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) is an inventor, father, and husband.  His wife trusts him and his children revere him almost unto a god.  He is completely self-confident and truly believes he is always right.  Allie Fox is also disillusioned with America.

Fed up, he takes his family and whatever they can carry, and sails to Belize on a container ship.  On board they are joined by missionaries returning to their mission.  The self-reliant Fox clashing with Rev. Spellgood (Andre Gregory) immediately.  Once in port the families part ways; Fox hoping never to see Spellgood again.

In the city, one raucous night after many drinks and a long conversation with a drunk American, Fox purchases the village of Geronimo located upstream.  The next day the family charters a small river boat to ferry them to their new home.  Arriving to squalor the ever optimistic–delusional (?)–Allie Fox starts reshaping the village to his image.  But all is not paradise when ego & hubris prevail over the common good & decency.

Mosquito Coast is based on the Paul Theroux book of the same name.  The story is similar to Heart of Darkness in that the further upstream the family proceeds, the further into the heart of darkness Allie Fox will journey.  At its most basic, the story is a fall from grace.  A story of how pride and its sister, ego, can blind you.  This theme is also carried through the sub-plot of science (Allie Fox) versus religion (Rev. Spellgood).  Both men are in the jungle for the same reason, to improve the lives of those there; and both men succeed.  But both men fail to see the good of each other because of the ego of their personal beliefs.  You are either with them or against them.

The greatest strength of the film is the acting.  This is Harrison Ford’s best performance.  When we first meet Allie Fox we meet a jaded blowhard who has an opinion about everything.  A man with an edge but a man with a heart.  The Allie Fox at the end of the film is a man who has fallen over the edge; a dangerous man; a man capable of anything no matter the cost.  Ford deftly molds his character from driven father to abusive despot.  And through it all you always see the power of the character to command people’s attention and gain their control.  Helen Mirren, as Mother, holds her own against the supercharged Ford, though she has less to work with in terms of character development.  She is the loyal and trusting wife–loyal to a fault.  The sad truth of her character is that she always had the power to stop Allie but failed to act.  Even near the end when presented with the choice whether to turn back or continue upstream, she allows him to continue upstream.  It is only at the end when she finally sees what he has become that she says enough.  It is only because if Mirren’s performance do we believe this wallflower had the internal strength to make that decision.  You see fleeting moments in her eyes throughout the film where she knows they are making a bad choice and debates challenging him, but ultimately decides to have faith and trust him.

The quality of the child actors depends on the material they are given to work with.  Hilary and Rebecca Gordon as the Fox twins are non-existent in terms of character development, and are in the film only to add additional elements of danger to the family.  Jadrien Steele as Jerry Fox has more to do, and he carries the change well.  Jerry, like all the children admires his father.  Later, though, he is the first to hate him; so much so to even suggest abandoning him.  But, as a boy would, he in the end fears losing his father and is scared of life without him.  The change in his face when he watches his father in the beginning of the film to the end is all you have to see to know how much Allie Fox has fallen in his children’s eyes.

River Phoenix is the stand-out performance among the children, and is equal to Harrison Ford overall—though in a less showy role.  His Charlie Fox is a son who holds his father on a pedestal, but also a boy on the cusp of starting the journey into becoming a man.  He is eager to please his father as well as is in awe of him.  But as Allie goes though his journey so does Charlie.  As Allie becomes less and less about family, Charlie becomes more.  He rises to the occasion of becoming a surrogate father to his siblings and protector to his mother.  More importantly, Phoenix’s Charlie–and this has always been one of Phoenix’s greatest attributes as an actor–maintains his humanity and vulnerability while gaining an inner strength of character.

Charlie’s journey is made easier for us to witness because of the director, Peter Weir.  The film is figuratively shown through Charlie’s eyes and heard in his voice.  Narration, when used, is by Charlie.  How we perceive Allie Fox is how Charlie sees him.  And how we see the film is how Charlie remembers it.  The beginning of their journey is joyous and adventurous.  The end is dark and fearful.  At their most desperate, the voices of a choir sound as if angels are singing.

Weir and Schrader, the screenwriter, also use dramatic irony to good effect.  The atheists inventor corrects the christian missionary on biblical scripture.  The scene when Rev. Spellgood visits Geronimo is a masterclass on the subject.  The man of God Rev. Spellgood on the river dock bids everyone a loud, “a very good morning to you.”  Mother Fox retorts with a whispered, “Oh God,” under her breath.  Spellgood approaches Allie Fox with a staff in hand as Moses freeing his people, but quotes Pharaoh instead.  Fox approaches Spellgood with a carpenters belt & hammer.  To Spellgood’s claim that he came because the Lord sent him, Allie replies, “the Lord doesn’t know this place exists,” that he in fact is the savior here.

Weir also fashions Allie Fox into Dr. Frankenstein.  His great invention—the machine that can make ice from fire—is his monster.  Allie speaks of it in the masculine, always “he”.  Its mechanisms his insides:  his lungs, spleen, intestines, etc.  When his monster comes to life Allie Fox is a proud father.  And when his monster is killed it dies in fire and with an actual roar.  Its death leaves disaster, death, and destruction.  Its death finally breaks Allie Fox; its death pushing him over the razor’s edge.

Ultimately, though, Rita Kempley from the Washington Post said it best, “Sooner or later a man of invention will pollute paradise, a grand contradiction that gives Mosquito its bite and Ford inspiration for his most complex portrayal to date. As a persona of epic polarities, he animates this muddled, metaphysical journey into the jungle.”  The journey is muddled.  There is a key moment where faith & trust in Allie Fox from his family is lost due to a lie.  The story then loses our faith & trust when it causes Allie’s family to lie to him.  Though you understand where they are coming from and can empathize with their decision, that decision allows Allie Fox to be able to live with his choices.

Grade = B+

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“Prisoners” (2013) – Review

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Director:  Denis Villeneuve

Writer:  Aaron Guzikowski

Stars:  Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Erin Gerasimovich, and Zoe Borde

A Thanksgiving Dinner goes horribly wrong when two daughters, Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Eliza Birch (Zoe Borde), go missing.  After forty-eight hours in custody with no hard evidence of his involvement, Det. Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) has to release his prime suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano).  Believing the police can no longer help, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) abducts Alex in order to make him talk by whatever means necessary.

The writer, Aaron Guzikowski, created an intelligent script with fully realized characters, and more importantly a story that does not take you down the usual path but keeps you guessing as to where you end up.  The story is both a crime drama and a character piece, with the central question being how far will you go.  How far will a father go to get his daughter back?  How far will you turn a blind eye to something you know is not right?  Is this person a hero or monster?  Is this person a victim or a perpetrator?  The story only becomes wobbly upon further thought after the movie has ended, but these are minor points that do not take away from the film.

The acting across the board is incredible.  Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover brings more menace in his interrogation of Alex Jones than in any scene of Wolverine in any movie.  His Dover is a decent man brought to the edge of sanity by incredible circumstances.  Maria Bello as Grace Dover is also brought low, but in her case to depression & withdrawal.  Terrance Howard is the audience surrogate.  Like Jackman’s Dover, his Franklin Birch is a decent man brought low.  But unlike Dover he sees the wrong in their actions; worse he chooses to do nothing about it.  Paul Dano delivers another solid performance as Alex Jones.  The quiet prime suspect with the supposed intelligence of a ten-year old.  But his Alex has an edge, a not quite right vibe that makes us guessing to how much he knows.  As for Jake Gyllenhaal, with this role as Det. Loki and Robert Graysmith from Zodiac, he is establishing a knack for delivering great performances in adult thrillers.  Det. Loki has an edge with a back story you want to know but is not revealed.  Melissa Leo is unrecognizable as Holly Jones and Violas Davis works as a strong counterpoint to Howard’s vacillating Franklin.

Denis Villeneuve delivers a tight and engaging thriller.  Though the film is 153 minutes long, it never feels fat and moves at a quick pace.  The mood is decidedly bleak and washed-out–as if the film was bleached at times.  Shots are well composed and Villeneuve is not afraid to show you the gritty–and necessary–moments.  There is nothing supliferous.  He also makes clever decisions in editing.  Key dialogue is heard during a confrontation but never seen spoken.  Did the character actually say it, or did the other character hear something he wanted to hear?

Prisoners delivers across the board.  Definitely the best thriller of the year and in my Top-Ten so far.

Grade = A-

Click on image to view trailer

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“Twenty Feet From Stardom” (2013) – MIFF – Review

Reposting this for its national release this weekend.

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Director:  Morgan Neville

With:  Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fisher, Gloria Jones, Mick Jagger, Lou Adler, David Bowie

Twenty Feet from Stardom begins with one of the best opening credits sequences used in a documentary and proceeds to get better from there.  As great back-up vocals play from classic songs, still images from concert performances appear on the screen with the lead vocalist obscured while the camera focuses on the other singers.  From here we are introduced to back-up singers past and present, and learn their stories.

As the film progresses you quickly understand the importance of the back-up singers.  You realize the parts of songs you eventually sing along to while you listen are those parts the back-up singers perform.  You also learn some songs cannot function without them.  What is Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones without the female vocal?

When Brown Sugar was originally recorded…

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The 10 Best “Credit Cookies” in Movie History

Flavorwire

Iron Man 3 is out in theaters tomorrow, and it should come as no surprise that those who are willing to sit through the end credits — and seriously, they run something like ten minutes and include more names than a small-town phone book — will be rewarded with an extra (and very funny) bonus scene. Some call these little bonuses “credit cookies,” others call them “stingers.” In Roger Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary, Serdor Yegulalp dubs them the “Monk’s Reward,” defined thus: “A surprising final line or image, tagged on after the credits have finished rolling… so named because it usually takes monk-like devotion to sit through the credits to get to it.” The previous Marvel movies made a regular habit of including credit cookies, mostly as preparation for The Avengers, but they’re not the only movies to throw in a little something extra for those who stick…

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Julie Newmar’s Catwoman & Adam West’s Batman: cutting room floor


“I Do” (2012-Sneak Preview) – Frameline36

Playing tonight in the 2013 MGLFF

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Director:  Glenn Gaylord

Writer:  David W. Ross

Stars:  David W. Ross, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Alicia Witt, Maurice Compte, and Grant Bowler

I Do tackles the two hotbed issues of immigration and gay marriage in a non-political but personal way through Jack Edwards (David W. Ross).  The story begins a few years in the past at a dinner with Jack, his brother Peter (Grant Bowler) and Peter’s wife Mya (Alicia Witt).  During dinner Peter & Mya announce she is pregnant, and everyone is happy.  But after dinner a tragic accident occurs.

Fast-forward to the present:  Mya is a struggling single mother, and Jack has given-up his personal life to act as a surrogate father for Tara (Jessica Tyler Brown)–picking her up from school, tucking her into bed at night before he heads home, and always being there to help Mya in emergencies.  But then everything changes when Jack’s extension for his work…

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