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Cheyenne: The Argonauts (1955)
Flawed Reviews of This Episode
Having just watched this episode, I felt compelled to comment on it -- and on the reviews of it here on IMDb.
Yes, this is a re-telling of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. So what? I don't know about the other reviewers, but even when I was young I was often aware that certain episodes of TV series I was watching were re-tellings of classic stories. One that stands out in my mind was the time Richard Basehart's Admiral Nelson of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea found himself in a re- telling of MOBY DICK, made even more intriguing by the fact that he played Ishmael in the original film version.
It was actually fun to see my favorite characters placed into those stories, and it was fun in this case as well. One never for a moment watches this episode and thinks Edward Andrews is trying to play Eugene Dobbs or that Rod Taylor is trying to play Curtin. And it is laughable to think Cheyenne Bodie has anything to do with Walter Huston's portrayal of the prospector Howard. The film of TOTSM was an instant classic, and a TV homage to it from the studio that produced the film is nothing to apologize for (I was amused by the poster who pointed out any idea of this TV episode "stealing" the plot from TOTSM would logically conclude with "Warner Bros. suing Warner Bros.")
I think was a well-done retelling of the story, with excellent performances from the three leads (once you extricate yourself from some foolish need to compare the performances to Bogart, Holt and Huston), and covers some territory the original didn't in terms of the racism against Native Americans. Particularly like how when Cheyenne (the brunt of some of the racism himself) is attacked for wanting to spend time with some "Injuns" in order to help them, comments along the lines of "Well, after spending some time with white people, it sounds like a pretty good idea".
As for the meaning of the title "The Argonauts", the answer is pretty self-evident. What were the Argonauts going in search of? And if you say "some sheep's fur", maybe there's another classic story you might need to revisit.
Atlas Shrugged: Part I (2011)
Although the production values weren't as awful as I was expecting, watching this movie gave me the same feeling that I got when I read the book...none of the characters are recognizable as HUMAN BEINGS (although the actors give it the old college try in trying to breathe life into them, unlike the cardboard portrayals in the book). Also, the portrayal of both the "heroic" capitalists and the "evil" government are about as true to life as the physics in your average comic book action movie, although some tenuous references to real life events show the filmmakers were doing their best to twist connections in order to make the movie "relevant".
However, when I read the book I did not have as clear an understanding of Ayn Rand's motivations as I did watching the movie. So watching the movie I suddenly could see that the "American government" she visualized in ATLAS SHRUGGED is not American at all, but actually a projection of the SOVIET government she was traumatized by in her youth. Clear enough when you realize she viewed the very concept of government itself as socialist BY DEFINITION.
But Rand still shows the after-effects of her initial communist indoctrination in her need to see things in absolutist terms, with a predisposition to overemphasize behavior that supports her views and ignore or dismiss all behavior that contradicts it...much like the approach of Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. In other words, as smart as she was, Rand not only didn't have the full range of real-life experiences necessary to grasp the world as it is, she never saw the NEED to. She only needed to pick and choose which of the limited life experiences she did have would reinforce her personal preordained beliefs.
This movie (and book) is a vision of hyper-capitalism as fevered and skewed as any communist propaganda film made in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. A terrible irony.
Morality in Dallas, Circa 1961
This episode of ROUTE 66 is, above all, a fascinating visual glimpse of the Dallas, Texas of a half century ago. As someone who's spent a lot of time in Dallas over the last 30+ years, I've always wanted to see what the earlier Dallas was like. And this episode is a better visual record of that earlier Dallas than anything I've yet found. I would say this was shot around December of 1961. So circa 1961, here's what the Dallas Love Field airport looked like, here's what the Dallas Trade Mart looked like, here's a good look at the downtown skyline, the large Marriott Motor Lodge that used to sit just north of Oaklawn next to the "brand new" Stemmons Freeway (or I-35)...there's a lot of Dallas history captured in this episode. And, for the Dallasites out there, well worth studying.
And oh, by the way, there's quite a good morality play suspense thriller here as well, with good performances from the series leads and an excellent one from David Wayne, wonderfully underplayed.
Billy Liar (1963)
Birth of the Swinging Sixties
This is a very poignant as well as hilarious movie, and despite what some say, the ending shows a lot of integrity to the true spirit of the film.
But I have to say, when Julie Christie shows up in this movie, walking down the street, it has to be one of the seminal moments in British cinema. You see the baton passed from the gray "kitchen sink" British cinema of the '50s to the upbeat British cinema of the Swinging Sixties right then and there. Not only that, but in those few minutes you actually see the birth of a film star! Viva La Christie! And by the way, I never knew until this film what a terrific comic actor Courtenay could be.
Casino Royale (2006)
On The "New" Bond
I will make clear at the beginning that this film, while overlong, is IMHO quite a well-made film, well-directed and well-acted, and that I personally find there to be some legitimacy to those who seek to proclaim it the best Bond film ever made. Certainly all those who loudly protested the choice of Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond have now been exposed to the world for their foolishness.
However, I do feel more than a few of those commenting here lack quite a bit of perspective to the evolution of Bond in the popular consciousness over the past half century, which makes some of their pronouncements (most significantly that Craig's performance as Bond is superior to any others') to lack a great deal of credibility.
For starters, it simply cannot be denied that James Bond is one of the great "mythological" creations of that period of history known as the Cold War. Also, that he is a classically British creation of the mid-20th century, and that attempts to translate him into 21st century American terms have always carried with them inherent flaws. In addition, it needs to be restated that when the first Bond films of the '60s arrived, they almost overnight created a whole new genre of film, the "spy film", which had not truly existed beforehand, and which themselves quickly evolved due to the rapid technological advancements of the '60s (most significantly the Space Race) as well as the rapid changes in sexual mores of the time, both of which led to (at the time) unique forays into the fields of science fiction and, well, sex. These should be obvious points, but it is clear that the younger fans on these boards seem to have great difficulty grasping these facts, particularly in terms of properly appreciating the Sean Connery films of the '60s.
My point in all this is that the "newness" of Casino Royale is quite an illusion. This film is actually more faithful to the films of the early '60s than it is groundbreaking in the field of spy films. One need only look at the early Bond films (in particular FROM Russia WITH LOVE) to realize that, 21st century bells and whistles aside, this is pretty much the way CASINO ROYALE would have been filmed if, circumstances permitting, it had been the first Bond movie filmed in 1962. Also, one needs to consider that the accomplishments of the 2006 CASINO ROYALE can be said to be largely made on the backs of the Bond films that came before it -- again, particularly the Connery films of the '60s. I therefore find it rather ignorant to say that this film is more "realistic" than the original Bonds -- a somewhat preposterous statement considering things like the exciting but outrageous foot race in Madagascar that in the end relied more on suspending the laws of probability than any chase or fight in GOLDFINGER.
So to the new fans of Bond, I say, welcome. It is wonderful that you appreciate a Bond film that relies more on character development and honest plot development than any Bond film in the past 35+ years. Now go back and watch the Connery films of the '60s. If you liked this film, you will love the "originals".
And by the way, any of you who think Connery couldn't have handled the level of acting demanded of Craig (which I think he handled quite well) need to see Connery's work in THE HILL. A film he made in 1965, between GOLDFINGER and THUNDERBALL. That's when you'll realize that, if things had gone differently for the development of the Bond films of the '60s, Connery would have been more than up to the task of creating a "realistic" James Bond.
But then, in the end, there was a reason why they would say, "Sean Connery IS James Bond".
The Producers (2005)
The Difference Between Film and Theatre
This film is the perfect example of why theatre productions cannot be transferred to film. It's not just that this film is up against the double-whammy of being compared to the brilliant original and the Broadway theatre version -- it's that this film makes the mistake of being nothing more than a filmed theatre production. It must be understood that acting which works on stage, if done the same way on camera, comes across as forced and false. The advantage of stage, that the audience is live and has a very real interaction with the performers on stage, is of course absent. But the advantage of film, that the production can GO ANYWHERE and the camera can flow and interact with the story, is also far too underutilized, and largely squandered. The main fault must lie with the director, who while qualified for theatre direction is not experienced at film direction, and doesn't seem to yet understand how film really works.
I am, however, fascinated by one of those rare but clear exceptions to the rule: Nathan Lane. His comedic talents work just as effectively on camera as they do on stage (although he was still not as effective as he could have been if he'd been working with a film director).
I cannot, unfortunately, say the same thing about Matthew Broderick. It's his performance, which was unquestionably successful on stage, which most clearly does not make the transition to film. He has extensive experience in film, but in creating the character of Bloom for the Broadway stage, he has locked in choices that are simply wrong for the camera. Again, a good film director could have helped him re-translate his character for the camera.
Bottom line is, it is unfair to judge this musical production of THE PRODUCERS by watching it on film. It is obvious that if this same production (by the same director) were witnessed on stage, the results would be (and obviously were) an overwhelming success.
Do I expect people to disagree with me? Hey, I've lived in the real world long enough to know something about how it works. But I stand by my opinion. And since the film, which had tremendous publicity and built in support for it's success from the theatre crowd, still failed at the box office, I know my opinion is shared by others.
Twice a Fortnight (1967)
Forerunner to Monty Python
This is definitely one of the ancestors of Monty Python. I could be wrong, but I do believe it was recorded live in front of an audience, and one of the things that made it so fascinating to me was the interaction between the performers and the audience. I swear I can remember times when the audiences jeered or teased the performers, which to me was occasionally as funny as what the performers were doing. The other thing I remember about it was a very haunting performance on camera by the Moody Blues of "Nights in White Satin"...years before that song was a hit in the States.
I'm sure the BBC "wiped the tapes" of this one, damn them. Who says only American TV programmers are idiots?
The Pandora's Box That is Time Travel
I have to say this is an astounding movie to me. Not simply because it looks far better than a $7000 movie has any right to look (even if a distributor spent a hundred times that to "clean it up").
This movie takes the ultimate advantage of it's budget to present a time travel story that is, in a way that I find rather unnerving, the most "realistic" portrayal of time travel I have ever seen. The "non-acting" of the actors, the shaky (yet sometimes quite sophisticated) use of the camera, the odd way the story plays out as semi-coherent...this film plays out as if it were actually made by it's protagonist (which, of course, it was). But what we discover by learning the story through "Aaron" is that the final result of time travel is, quite simply, madness.
I had such a feeling of dread as this film unfolded. From the moment we see Aaron and Abe first watch the "other" Abe at the U-Haul facility, the full ramifications of what time travel really could lead to started to crystallize. It's not just the idea that God-like powers have been placed in the hands of flawed human beings...it's the concept that flawed human beings are continually pulled like magnets toward the temptation to trap themselves inside a nightmarish existence, for the most "logical" of reasons. Not only that, but the insidious way the ripple effect of tampering with reality through time travel spread and spread meant that, ultimately, no one would be safe from such a disastrous invention. To me, somehow the most terrifying moment of this film is when the wife talks about getting an exterminator to take care of the "sound in the attic." As soon as I realized what that sound was, it shook me.
I will be thinking about this "imperfect" film for some time to come.
In the Midst of the Fantasy...
Naturally, along with everyone else, I was primed to expect a lot of Hollywood fantasy revisionism in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON over the legend of Custer. Just having someone like Errol Flynn play Custer is enough of a clue that the legend has precedence over the truth in this production. And for the most part my expectations were fulfilled (in an admittedly rousing and entertaining way).
Yet even in this obviously biased (and much criticized) retelling of the Custer story, I was struck by some of the points made in this movie that, sometimes subtly but nevertheless solidly, seemed to counter the typical clichés of manifest destiny and unvarnished heroism usually found in Westerns of the early 20th century.
For instance, even while this film attempted to whitewash it's hero, certain scenes still suggested the more flawed and foolish character of the real-life Custer:
1) His initial entrance at the West Point front gate, in which his arrogance and pompousness is a clear aspect of his character.
2) His miserable record at West Point, which seems to be attributed as much to Custer's cluelessness about the demands of military service as any other factor; there are moments in the way Flynn plays Custer at West Point where he seems downright stupid.
3) Custer's promotion to General is not only presented as a ridiculous mistake, but it plays out as slapstick comedy. I half-expected to see the Marx Brothers or Abbott and Costello wander into the scene.
4) Custer's stand against Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg is not whitewashed as brilliant military tactical leadership, but is presented as reckless and wildly lucky.
5) Custer's drinking problem is certainly not ignored.
And although the music and some of the ways the Indians were shown in this film were certainly reinforcements of the racist stereotype of the ignorant savage, it still came as a surprise to me that the movie actually went into some detail as to why the Indians were justified in attacking the whites who were moving into their land, and fairly explicitly laid the blame for the battles in the Black Hills squarely at the foot of the white man. In fact, no one can argue that the clear villain of the piece is not Anthony Quinn as Sitting Bull, but Arthur Kennedy & Co. as the white devils making the false claim of gold in the Black Hills. Sure, that part of the story is true, but I didn't expect to see it portrayed quite so unequivically in a movie like this.
And one other thing: usually in these films it is the Indians who are portrayed en masse as drunken animals seemingly incapable of the basic common sense to avoid getting falling down drunk any time they get near alcohol. In this movie, it is actually the troops of the 7th Cavalry, and not the Indians, who in at least two scenes are portrayed this way.
All in all, this movie slips in some surprising moments in the midst of the Hollywood bunk.
War of the Worlds (2005)
A Dark Vision of Invasion
This is a pretty harsh look at what an alien invasion might be like. The brutality and horror of such an event is not sugar-coated here (except maybe for the ending, which I'll touch on later). It seems that Spielberg's Holocaust influence more than 9/11 was responsible for how terrible some of the images in this film are, but it made me appreciate the fact that Spielberg was willing to take what could have been another summer popcorn movie (like, yes, Independence Day) and instead made a strong statement about what genocide really means. There may even be a connection with current events in Africa.
Maybe it's because I happen to be the divorced father of a 10-year old blond daughter myself, but I found this film to be more disturbing than some of the commenters. In fact I find some of their comments to be more glib and callous than insightful. Nothing Dakota Fanning did rang false to me, and many of the viewers (I guess because of their lack of life experiences) missed the point of a lot of the things that both the daughter and the father did. I am not a fan of Tom Cruise (his interview with Matt Lauer was one of the biggest displays of arrogant ego that I have ever seen in real life), but nothing he did in this film rang false, either. Real life is messy, folks, and in this case the film made the necessary connection with that real life in order to ground the fantastic nature of the film with true human emotions.
Yes, the film has flaws. The "Machines buried under the Earth for one million years" plot device just doesn't work for me for multiple reasons (Why was H.G. Well's original concept of their simply coming down from space unacceptable for Spielberg?), and yes, the ending undercuts the tragic elements of the film -- although personally speaking, I only laughed because I recognized some familiar actors among the characters in the final scene.
Still, this film is a worthy achievement, and by no means a failure of either film-making or vision. Although I must confess, I'll always prefer Close Encounters of the Third Kind myself.
The Tragicomic Man
I have been a Peter Sellers fan for four decades. It is my opinion that Sellers is the greatest film comedian of the 20th century. Therefore, when I first began to hear the stories about the dark side of the man, I was, like many others, at first unable to accept that a man who made me laugh so hard could be as terrible as some writers would have me believe. As I read biography after biography of the man, part of me would search for any obvious bias on the part of the writer that would allow me to dismiss some or all of their negative takes on Sellers. And yes, I found some degree of bias, sensationalism, and even incompetence on the part of all those Sellers bio writers. I also found enough collaborative aspects to the writings to be able to determine that, in the end, at least some of the negative statements about the man were probably true.
And now, at last, we have the first true biopic about Peter Sellers. And for the first time, I feel I have some sort of solid perspective on both the man and on those who, like "the blind men and the elephant" fable, have been attempting to draw conclusions on who and what Peter Sellers was. Wouldn't you know it would be the film medium itself that would be necessary to bring the man into some sort of coherent focus? First of all, the format of the film itself was a brilliant choice in telling the Peter Sellers story. In a way as bizarre as the man himself, it appears that filming the biopic as though it were one of the very light comedy movies that the man made his mark in seems to have become the only way to bring the larger truth of the man to life. Then you have the fine performances by Emily Watson, Charlize Theron, John Lithgow, and most especially Geoffrey Rush as Sellers himself. Because we know the real people these actors play all too well, it again becomes necessary for the light comedy genre to be used so the actors are allowed the room to maneuver in to tell the story in a substantial way.
And finally, what does this film tell us about Peter Sellers? When you are wedded to your own bias, you will reach subjective personal conclusions about that. You can say the film shows Sellers was a monster, or merely an empty vessel as he himself claimed, and then use these conclusions to attack the film or use it as further proof that the man should be dismissed from serious discussion as a part of the history of film. But if you watch the film with some degree of objectivity, and realize the significance of why the filmmakers told the story in the genre they did, you will reach a more fascinating conclusion: Peter Sellers was so brilliant at playing the fools he played in all those films because, in the end, Peter Sellers was the Fool himself. A Fool who knew, deep in his soul, that he was a Fool, and who despised that fact even as he brought so many legendary cinematic Fools to life...while inexorably continuing to live the life of the Fool. It is a horribly ironic joke that the only accurately "psychic" moment the manipulative medium Maurice Woodruff has about Sellers is when he pulls the Fool card out of the Tarot deck. And what does he do? He hides the card. It's the only true insight he has into Sellers, so it's the only vision of Sellers he doesn't share with Sellers. Such could only happen to a Fool.
Did all the events in Sellers' life happen exactly as they are portrayed in the film? That's not the point. The point is that Sellers so craved the world's approval that he was willing, in a way no other actor has been capable of, to put his whole Foolish heart and soul into comic characters that were so memorable because, incredibly enough, they were really the man who was playing them. And the terrible cost of this was paid not only by those around the man, but by the man himself.
And that, finally, was the Tragicomedy that was Peter Sellers.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Mark of a Great Storyteller
I was in no hurry to see MILLION DOLLAR BABY. I am not a fan of boxing films, and I still think the title is less than stellar. And after seeing it, I haven't changed my opinion that ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND is the best film I've seen so far in the 21st century.
But number two of the century for me is now MILLION DOLLAR BABY.
It's not the story itself that makes this such a great film. The story with it's surface emphasis on underdogs and redemption is actually fairly routine. It is the way Clint Eastwood tells this story, the way he gets such understated yet magnificent performances from his cast, the brilliant use of lighting, of story pacing through editing, his unobtrusive but highly effective music...This film is a textbook example of the best of film storytelling that should be studied by film students in this generation and the next. And the next, and the next...
This is not a film about boxing. This is a film about human beings, their hopes, fears, flaws, and potential for transcendent greatness, sometimes through staggering self-sacrifice. It is told with such love and compassion for the human condition that it gives me a little much-needed faith that maybe the human race is still capable of more than the mundane goals it seems to be setting for itself lately.
The supporting performances are uniformly excellent. But the three leads reach levels of acting on a par with any great performance you'd care to name in film history. I have not been a Hilary Swank fan. But her work here forces me to acknowledge that she is one of the best in her profession. And just when I thought Morgan Freeman couldn't get any better, here he is with the best performance I have ever seen from him. And considering his past work, that is really saying something.
And speaking of best performances, here the legendary Clint Eastwood crowns his career with a titanic performance that redefines him as an actor for the ages. And trust me, the fact that he did it while simultaneously having to spend so much time and loving care on this film as a director makes his work as an actor all the more amazing. Consider this, too: if MDB had been someone else's film, would that director or producer even have thought to cast him in this role?
I didn't really expect to be saying these things about this film. But I mean every word of it.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001)
When Good Actors Must Go Bad
Just when spoofs of bad movies have become as tired and mediocre as the movies they ridicule, along comes THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, to show people a textbook example of the right way to make a spoof. This is such an accurate riff on the bad sci-fi B-movies of the 50's that it actually starts slow just as those B-movies did. But once it gets rolling...! Credit must be given to Larry Blamire's script: he clearly knows what he's doing in building a dead-on re-creation of the worst of those old scripts, complete with outrageously bad science and truly incompetent dialogue. Admittedly he has written moments that trade authenticity for laughs (The skeleton voice-overs in particular), but the result is far too funny to quibble over. Which brings me to: The biggest "problem" with the movie, the fact that the actors are just too good to give the absolutely incompetent performances demanded of them. However, this results instead in some priceless dead-pan moments of farce, particularly in the "remote cabin" scenes where the main characters have gathered. The meal and the visit by the Ranger in particular are so hilarious simply because the actors do such good work in them. Jennifer Blaire as Animala and Dan Conroy as the ranger stand out, but everybody else deserves kudos as well.
And the dancing! To get the full effect of this movie, you need to have seen at least a dozen of the B-movies this one takes off from. But even without that "education", there will be moments in LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA that will put you right on the floor in laughter.
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Stone Age Acting
Certainly this film is both innovative for it's time and breathtakingly racist for ANY time. However, an aspect of this film that doesn't get much analysis is the acting. While Mr. Griffith may have expanded the boundaries of the potential of film in both the epic and the multiple-plot sense, his use of actors was in no way innovative.
At the time the common style of acting was both stagy and formal, with standardized gestures used to convey the basic emotions and no real exploration of the deeper aspects of human behavior. Mr. Griffith seems not to have understood or even cared that this theatrical style of acting was even more ineffective in film, particularly in close-ups, and therefore made no effort to explore more effective ways to help his actors connect with the audience. To be fair, he may have been correct in assuming his basic audience in 1915 wouldn't know any better, but still, it wasn't long before Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Buster Keaton and others (with no more knowledge than Griffith) innovated the art form in ways Griffith seemed incapable of grasping, and the film audience even in the early days always embraced the more honest and subtle styles of film acting that they instinctively connected with.
Ms. Gish & Company share little of the blame for their work in BOAN; after all, as has been stated, they never even had a script to work off of, and obviously there was no one on set to adjust their performances from the theatrical background they were used to. Occasionally a honest moment still seems to creep into a few of the performances, but they seem to be accidents since all the emotional moments Griffith emphasizes with editing and close-ups are terribly stilted. It isn't only the black characters that seem ridiculous, and part of the reason modern audiences have to stifle laughs at some of the performances is because that style of acting has been parodied since before most of them were born.
This film does make you appreciate all the more the groundbreaking work of actors from Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn to Henry Fonda, Marlon Brando and James Dean in creating the modern form of film acting.
And by the way, I have to add that even though I was warned about the racism of the film, there is nothing to prepare you for the stunning degree of ADVOCACY of the racism from Mr. Griffith. This aspect of the film, even given the overall historical impact of BIRTH OF A NATION, cannot be avoided or dismissed.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Action For Imbeciles
This movie is a prime example of the level of idiocy the Hollywood action movie has reached at the turn of the century. A ten-year old could make a more believable (and therefore more compelling) movie than this. How can people get caught up in the action sequences when they have no connection with simple laws of physics or causality? How can you think the hero is in jeopardy when he is beyond superhuman? Compared to this lunacy of a movie, the Connery Bond films were docudramas.
I suppose if this had been tongue-in-cheek it would have been more tolerable, but Tom Cruise & Co. obviously expected the audience to take this garbage SERIOUSLY.
I am glad to say the film studio didn't make a penny off me for this movie.
Ike: Countdown to D-Day (2004)
Selleck Gets the Job Done
I have to say I think this may be Tom Selleck's best acting performance. He doesn't necessarily deserve an Emmy, but I'm also not being sarcastic; this is definitely a quality performance, not because it is some scene-chewing piece of grandstanding, but because it is subtle, honest, and to the point. The way Selleck shows Ike's moments of anguish over his awful responsibility are understated but no less compelling, and actually give some sense of what the actual man had to go through.
Although there are some inaccuracies in the film (Ike visits the paratroopers in the DAYTIME on June 6th? Those guys had dropped into France some 12 hours earlier!), I think we still get a good sense of how things were happening around Ike before D-Day. And contrary to some other opinions, I thought the portrayals of Churchill and Montgomery were both well-done and totally fair.
Capricorn One (1977)
The Entertainment Value of Conspiracy Theories
First of all, I find it both pitiful and hilarious that some people still question whether we landed on the moon. These are descendants of the people who greeted Columbus' return to Europe in 1493 with "You just went over the horizon and sailed in circles for a few months, didn't you?" But even though I'm a supporter of the space program, I found CAPRICORN ONE to be quite an entertaining film. The direction was snappy, the acting was well done, the music was great. But my favorite aspect of the whole film was...the helicopters. When is some filmmaker going to rip off the wonderful way Peter Hyams used these helicopters? They were two of the most menacing CHARACTERS I've ever seen in a film. The moment that they stop during their search, turn, and LOOK AT EACH OTHER still makes me shiver with delight. These must be the original Black Helicopters that conspiracy theorists put such stock in.
Great fun...as long as you remember this is a fantasy.
Robin and Marian (1976)
One of the Great Neglected Classics
This is Sean Connery's other great performance (besides THE HILL) that was inexplicably ignored by too many film critics and other "film lovers". I suppose with this one, the reason is too many people can't bear to let go of their pristine version of the Robin Hood legend, the 1938 Errol Flynn Hollywood film. It's a shame, because ROBIN AND MARIAN manages to open up the legend in fascinating ways while still showing a great deal of affection for Robin Hood and the heroic vision that so many, both in the 13th century and today, need to believe in.
Still, great jobs by Connery, Hepburn (truly the template for a beautiful mature woman), Williamson, Shaw, Holm, Barker, Elliot, Harris and the rest of the actors. I think Goldman's script was a brilliant light companion to THE LION IN WINTER, but only light on the surface; underneath was a mature and fully realised meditation on all our twilights. And the direction by Richard Lester was yet again masterful, one of the many reasons why he will always be among my favorite directors. And finally, the music by another master, John Barry, shows the maestro at the top of his form.
One of my 100 favorite films.
The Spirit of Philip K. Dick Lives On
Charlie Kaufman appears to be the heir apparent to the legacy of Philip K. Dick, and nowhere is this more evident than with ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. It's not just that this is Jim Carrey's best film. It's not even that this is the best film of 2004 so far. This film is the best film of the 21st century so far.
Kaufman's explorations of the twists and turns both of reality and (by extension) the human mind has never been more brilliantly realized. But beyond that, this film captures more than any film I have ever seen the importance of personal human memory. How it can be manipulated. How it can define a person. But most importantly, how valuable it is to us all, good or bad.
What a wonderful fable this is for the present day. For those with open enough minds, it has an almost SIXTH SENSE pull to be re-watched, so one can fully understand how the excellent plot construction actually pulls you into it's world. After all, it makes you question during the film if you remembered previous scenes correctly, only to reveal the manipulation of memory at the end.
The Monitors (1969)
I've begun to wonder if there are more than a few hundred people on earth who remembered Keith Laumer at all...but now I KNOW there aren't more than a few hundred people...
THE MONITORS is a sloppy movie (as befits the era it was made in, where people sometimes went against convention simply because it WAS convention), but the basic humor and theme are definitely still timely. Whoever owns this is a fool for not releasing it on DVD as a cult film.
However, if I had 10 or 20 million to make a film with, I wouldn't re-make what is actually one of Laumer's more minor works. I would commit Keith Laumer's greatest literary creation to celluloid; something that should have been done long ago.
Or is there no one left out there who remembers Jame Retief of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne?
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
A HARD PILL TO SWALLOW
While I hesitate to call this film a masterpiece, I do think HOSAF is one of the ten best films to come out of 2003. Ben Kingsley in particular gives an Oscar-worthy performance. I also have to say that one of the strengths of the film is it's refusal to either white-wash or villify any of the characters. Sure, the Colonel, the Girl and the Deputy are all tragically flawed, but they are also humanized.
Maybe that made some of the audience members uncomfortable. ("Damn! I can't root for anybody! 'N I can't cheer in the scene where the bad guy gets his ass kicked! This movie sucks!") But right now I'd say quite a few people out there needs to be made...uncomfortable.
To me, much of the negative response to this film comes from people who don't want to hear what the film is saying. They feel the characters are unmotivated or overdrawn, even though in real life people often make more extreme choices than any made by the leads in this film. I've seen it myself.
What this film showed me is that the selfish pursuit of the life of your dreams is ultimately destructive. The Colonel, the girl, and the deputy all feel entitled to dreams of self-fulfillment that show no consideration to the other inhabitants of the world they live in. Where does that ultimately lead? Watch the film for the answer.
And if you don't want to hear the answer...Well, then maybe you're the person who needs to hear it the most.
GREAT SOUNDTRACK, SO-SO FILM
It's a shame this movie was such a failure, because subsequently one of the greatest 60's film scores I've ever heard has been buried along with it. John Barry has never done finer work, and even appears on-camera to conduct one of the brilliant pieces he composed. If you ever get a chance to see this film on TV, and you get bored by it, just leave the sound on. You'll get quite a treat.
The Best of On-Camera Acting
This TV-Movie is totally character-driven, and while the script is important, it's success is primarily reliant on the acting. On this count, you'll never see a TV movie deliver more brilliantly on it's potential than this one.
Of course James Woods gives a spectacular performance. It's not just that he earns his reputation as a top-notch actor here; he goes beyond that to achieve what arguably may be the definitive portrayal of schizophrenia on television OR in film.
But what is most stunning for me about this film is the acting of James Garner. Playing the less showy part of Woods' sane brother, he matches Woods in acting excellence at every step, perfectly complementing the other's work. Mr. Garner has been one of the most reliable actors on the big or small screen for almost half a century, but what he does here goes beyond reliability to something approaching greatness. James Garner is one of the most underrated actors of our time, and nothing proves it more than this film.
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Here's one of those films from the past that has been too long overlooked. Taken in the context of when it was made (the early 60's) and who it's stars are, it is actually a pretty amazing film. I love the fact that this anti-war film comes in under the guise of a service comedy (a very popular film genre in the late 50's and early 60's) and yet as written, directed, and acted it really pulls no punches in attacking the very concept of mankind's love affair with war.
What great acting jobs! James Garner (one of the most underrated actors of his generation) is terrific, and so is Julie Andrews. In the midst of a string of movies that gained her a reputation as a virginal actress, she gives a VERY sexy performance in this film. Maybe it's because she never once vamps, but I personally found her to be quite attractive here. Quite attractive indeed. James Garner says she was the best kisser he ever worked with. I find myself wishing I'd had the chance to verify that.
Great supporting performances here, from James Coburn (never funnier) to Mervyn Douglas to Keenan Wynn to Joyce Grenfell to William Windom...well, everyone did a top-notch job on this one.
Two great scenes that alone make this film worth hunting down and screening: the tea in the garden scene, and the goodbye at the airfield scene. By the way, a great irony is that Mr. Garner says one of his favorite movies is CASABLANCA, yet the airfield scene in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY is the ultimate antithesis of the scene at the airfield in CASABLANCA. On numerous levels. Want to know what I'm talking about? Great. Then find this movie.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
A Brilliant Thriller
This movie is very much about the ironic contradictions between what is said and what is actually happening. The "tea-party" brainwashing scene is one of the most brilliant set-pieces in film history, and underscores the entire Orwellian theme. The film can also be considered as a satire of deception carried full circle. As for the train scene between Janet Leigh and Frank Sinatra, I simply refer back to my original statement. What is happening between the two is light years away from their surface banter, which fits in perfectly with the film's theme.
People who watch movies to put their brains on hold for two hours won't find nirvana here. Everyone else will be latching on to a masterpiece.